Andi McCloud | Staff Writer
John Witherspoon, a beloved actor and comedian best known as the character Willie Jones in the movie Friday, died at age 77 on Oct. 29 in his Southern California home. Witherspoon is survived by his wife, two sons and “a large family,” his family said in a statement to CNN.
“It is with the 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,” the statement said. “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 a huge deal to us.”
Known as “Pops” to the black community, Witherspoon is also known from other classics of black entertainment such as The Wayans Bros. and The Boondocks.
From social media posts to the celebration of his life held in Los Angeles last Tuesday, there has been an amazing outpouring of love and tribute to him from black Hollywood.
Ice Cube, who played alongside the comedy great on Friday, was one of the first to express his devastation.
“Life won’t be as funny without him,” Ice Cube wrote on Twitter.
Regina King, who voiced another main character in The Boondocks, took to Twitter to share love to “my dad, my grandpa, my comedic inspiration. I love you Spoons! Rest In Paradise, King.”
Witherspoon was an inspiration to many, not only in comedy but in all black cinema. He leaves behind timeless roles that will hold a place in the hearts of lovers of those classic movies. His unfiltered humor and granddad-like satire made for a character that exceeded expectations of any role in a movie and stood out from the usual.
“On Friday, he was the Dad to let me know I needed a job,” Hampton University senior Noah Boone said. “In The Boondocks and The Wayans Bros., he taught me the importance of family.”
The essence of Witherspoon is in his nickname to many since his role on Friday: “Pops.”
“Pops” is someone who you want to listen to because they give it to you straight, and in Witherspoon’s case, he always had a good lesson to teach you through a funny story. Through stand-up and his appearance in favorites in black TV such as Martin, Good Times and The Proud Family, he always seemed to steal the show with the essence that made the whole family laugh. For any black comedy, Witherspoon had to make a cameo with his humorous style and genius character portrayal.
For this generation, Witherspoon’s influence on modern comics is what keeps black comedy original and still always evolving. Although Witherspoon will no longer grace our screens in new television and film, “Pops” will always be here for us.