John Witherspoon, Prolific Character Actor and ‘Friday’ Star, Dies at 77

Actor also appeared in the films “Hollywood Shuffle”, “Boomerang” and “Vampire In Brooklyn” among others

John Witherspoon
Getty Images

John Witherspoon, a prolific character actor best known for a run of comedic turns in acclaimed films and cult classics like “Hollywood Shuffle” and the “Friday” franchise, died Tuesday in his Sherman Oaks, California, home. He was 77.

“It is with deep sadness we have to tweet this, but our husband & father John Witherspoon has passed away. He was a Legend in the entertainment industry, and a father figure to all who watched him over the years. We love you “POPS” always & forever,” Witherspoon’s family said in a statement posted to his Twitter account.

Born John Weatherspoon in Detroit (he changed his name to Witherspoon later) in 1942, he began his career in the 1960s, performing as an actor, comedian and occasional model. He made his television debut in 1970 on an episode of “Barnaby Jones,” and later in the decade appeared on episodes of “Good Times,” “What’s Happening!!” and “The Incredible Hulk,” as well as “The Richard Pryor Show.” Other television appearances include “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “St. Elsewhere,” “L.A. Law.”

During the 1980s, Witherspoon became closely associated with the rise in television shows created by and featuring African American performers, with appearances on “227,” “What’s Happening Now!!,” “Amen,” as well as “Living Single.” He had a major role on the 1995-1998 sitcom “The Wayans Bros.,” portraying the main characters’ father.

On movie screens, Witherspoon’s other film credits include classics like “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka,” “The Five Heartbeats,” “The Meteor Man,” and “Vampire in Brooklyn,” and he most notably appeared as Willie Jones in all three “Friday Films.”

On Twitter, his friends and peers paid tribute.

“This day began with such joy. And it’s ending with this heart wrenching news of John Witherspoon’s passing. One of our comic brother,” Arsenio Hall said.

“Pure funny. Hilarious and always kind. John Witherspoon will be missed,” Judd Apatow wrote.

John Witherspoon had all the quotables. RIP to a real one,” director Matthew Cherry said.

Witherspoon is survived by his wife, Angela, his two sons and his extended family. “We are all in shock, please give us a minute for a moment in privacy and we will celebrate his life and his work together,” the family said in a separate statement first published by Deadline. “John used to say ‘I’m no big deal’, but he was huge deal to us.”