As reported by TMZ, actress and singer Ja’Net Dubois—best known as the neighbor Willona Woods on Good Times—has died. Her family explained to TMZ that she died unexpectedly in her sleep and “hadn’t complained of any specific ailments recently.” DuBois was believed to be 74 years old.
DuBois started acting professionally in the late-’50s or early-’60s with roles in Broadway shows, and in 1966 she appeared alongside Sammy Davis Jr. in A Man Called Adam. She also started picking up TV roles, like in J.T. and the long-running soap opera Love Of Life (her appearance on which in the ‘70s made her the first Black woman to be part of the regular cast of a soap).
She met legendary TV producer Norman Lear in the ‘70s when she was performing in a play in Los Angeles, and he decided to cast her as the lovable neighbor in his sitcom Good Times (an indirect spin-off of his show Maude). The show was a hit, especially early on, and it helped establish DuBois’ legacy as a groundbreaking Black actress. DuBois later had one-off roles in a number of other sitcoms, including Sister, Sister, Martin, and Home Improvement. She also played with her Good Times history with an Emmy-winning role on Fox’s stop-motion animated series The PJs where she played grumpy, trigger-happy neighbor Mrs. Avery. The show, like Good Times, was set in a public housing project based on Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green homes.
On top of that, DuBois also co-founded L.A.’s Pan African Film & Arts Festival and wrote and sang “Movin’ On Up,” the theme song for The Jeffersons—one of the most iconic TV themes in history.