John Witherspoon, the actor and comedic force who starred in The Wayans Bros., the Friday franchise, Boondocks, and many others, has died. The family confirmed his death in a statement to Deadline: “It is with deepest sorrow that we can confirm our beloved husband and father, John Witherspoon, one of the hardest working men in show business, died today at his home in Sherman Oaks at the age of 77. He is survived by his wife Angela, and his sons JD, Alexander, and a large 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. John used to say ‘I’m no big deal’, but he was huge deal to us.” As of now, the cause of death has not been specified. He was 77.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, John Witherspoon (whose original surname was Weatherspoon) was one of 11 siblings—many of whom were creative. He developed a passion for music and learned to play both the trumpet and French horn. He began his stand-up career during the late ‘70s and landed a number of roles in landmark TV shows such as Barnaby Jones, Good Times, What’s Happening!!, and WKRP In Cincinnati. He became a regular in NBC’s The Richard Pryor Show and soon became a go-to guest for a number of popular Black sitcoms like 227 and Amen.
In 1995, Witherspoon landed a leading role in the WB’s sitcom The Wayans Bros.—starring brothers Shawn and Marlon—playing the father who everyone affectionately referred to as “Pops.” He also participated in a number of children’s shows, like The Proud Family and Kim Possible. One of his most notable, dynamic roles would arrive in 2005 when he starred as Robert “Granddad” Freeman, the passionately old school guardian of Huey and Riley Freeman, in the TV adaptation of the famed comic strip, The Boondocks.
Witherspoon also began developing an impressive roster of film credits beginning in 1980 with The Jazz Singer. While his portfolio may include many classics like I’m Gonna Get You Sucka , Meteor Man, and The Five Heartbeats, it was his turn in the Friday franchise that solidified him as a necessary presence within Black comedic art. Regarded as a cultural staple, Witherspoon appeared in a number of music videos for the likes of Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Goodie Mob, and others.
Witherspoon held a special place in the comedy landscape, blending old school sensibilities that felt familiar—familial, even—with an unflappable sense of fun. His sudden absence leaves a vacancy that is impossible to fill, but his comedic spirit lives on through his ubiquitous cultural presence.