John Witherspoon, the comedian and actor best known for his role in the Friday movies, died on Tuesday, October 29. He was 77.
“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,” Witherspoon’s family said in a statement to Us. “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.”
Witherspoon (real name John Weatherspoon) was born in Detroit in 1942 as one of 11 siblings. He launched his career in stand-up comedy during the 1960s and started acting in the late 1970s. He made one-episode cameos on TV shows including The Incredible Hulk, Good Times and Barnaby Jones before making his feature film debut in the 1980 drama The Jazz Singer.
Though he starred in several movies through the years — Hollywood Shuffle, Boomerang and Vampire in Brooklyn, to name a few — Witherspoon was best known for playing the grumpy Willie Jones in Friday (1995), Next Friday (2000) and Friday After Next (2002) opposite stars including Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Regina King, the late Bernie Mac and Mike Epps. Witherspoon was expected to reprise his role in the years-in-the-making next installment, Last Friday.
Witherspoon also famously voiced Gramps on The Boondocks and played Pops on The Wayans Bros., in addition to making frequent appearances on The Tracy Morgan Show.
The comic’s celebrity friends flooded social media with tributes after news broke of his death. Ice Cube, 50, tweeted, “I’m devastated over the passing of John Witherspoon. Life won’t be as funny without him.” King, 48, echoed, “My dad, my grandpa, my comedic inspiration! I love you Spoons! Rest In Paradise, King.”
Marlon Wayans took to Instagram and wrote, “I’m sad. Broken. Hurt.. yet extremely grateful to God that i got to spend 5 years of my life working with one of the funniest sweetest wisest humblest loving man @johnnywitherspoon you were my tv dad and my mentor and my friend. I miss you already. Something don’t feel right. This is heavy on my heart. Anyone that knows me knows how much i love pops. You have a strong wife and great kids. What an amazing family. Your boys damn near grew up on the #WayansBros set they’ll always be like my little brothers and sons. i will pass on all the jewels that you bestowed on to us. Thank you God for the many many many laughs that we shared on and off the set. You got ‘all the keys’ and i know you got one to heaven’s gate. Anytime i want to laugh or to see you I’m gonna put on a episode of wayans bros and laugh until i cry. I miss already…. hope your [sic] dancing in heaven with ugly white shoes on. ‘Pops pops sugar pops’. #ripjohnwitherspoon #mysecondpops.”
Witherspoon is survived by his wife, Angela Robinson-Witherspoon, and their two sons: John David “J.D.” and Alexander.