John Witherspoon, an actor-comedian who for decades made audiences laugh in TV shows and films, including the Friday feature franchise and the WB’s The Wayans Bros. , died suddenly at his home today. 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 Deadline. “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.”
Comedy great Witherspoon was born in Detroit in 1942 as John Weatherspoon. He launched a stand-up comedy career and began acting in the late 1970s with guest-starring TV roles, making his feature debut in the 1980 The Jazz Singer. Witherspoon appeared in numerous films, including Hollywood Shuffle, Boomerang, Vampire in Brooklyn, The Ladies Man and Fakin’ Da Funk.
Witherspoon was perhaps best known for his role as Ice Cube’s grumpy dad in the 1995 breakout hit Friday. He also appeared in the sequels Next Friday and Friday After Next, and was expected to reprise his role in the long-gestating final installment of the franchise titled Last Friday.
Witherspoon also voiced Gramps on the cult animated series The Boondocks. He likely would’ve returned for the series’ upcoming revival on HBO Max. Also known for his role as Pops on The Wayans Bros., Witherspoon did stints on such comedy series as The Tracy Morgan Show, The First Family and Black Jesus. He also was a frequent guest on Late Show with David Letterman.
Even with his busy film and TV career, standup comedy remained an important part of Witherspoon’s life. At age 77, he continued to perform regularly and had several dates coming up at the time of his death.