Author: Victor Trammell
Photo credits: © 2019 via CNN
John Witherspoon (pictured), was an American actor and comedian who performed in various television shows and films.
Witherspoon (born John Weatherspoon) is best remembered for his role as “Willie Jones” which he starred in for the rapper/film producer Ice Cube’s Friday film franchise. Witherspoon also appeared in many other films, such as Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Boomerang (1992), The Five Heartbeats (1991), and Vampire in Brooklyn (1995).
He has also made tons of appearances on television shows, such as The Fresh Prince (1994), The Wayans Bros. (1995–99), The Tracy Morgan Show (2003), Barnaby Jones (1973), The Boondocks (2005–2014), and Black Jesus (2014–2019). Witherspoon was a screenwriter as well.
He wrote his own film called From the Old School. In his movie, Witherspoon played an elderly working man who tries to prevent a neighborhood convenience store from being developed into a strip club. In the very last major film role of his life, Witherspoon played “Mr. Mimm” in the second installation of rap mogul Master P’s I Got the Hook Up series.
Witherspoon was born in the legendary upper Midwestern city of Detroit, Michigan on January 27, 1942. He was raised in a big but successful family and has 10 other siblings. Several of them grew up to be successful just like he was. Family, fun, and togetherness was a major part of Witherspoon’s enduring legacy in the entertainment business and beyond.
His elder brother, William was a songwriter for Motown who wrote the lyrics for the 1966 hit single “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” Cato, another Witherspoon sibling, was a director of the PBS-TV Network/CH56 in Detroit. Their sister, Gertrude Stacks, is a pastor at the Shalom Fellowship International church in Detroit.
Witherspoon got his start in show business as a stand-up comedian, which is the rawest, most challenging, and most organic element of a comedy actor’s talent. Throughout the course of his legendary career in the art of making people laugh, Witherspoon worked with other iconic black comedians, such as the late great Richard Pryor, the late Charles Murphy, and his megastar younger brother, Eddie Murphy.
The one thing that set Witherspoon apart from his predecessors, peers, and successors in comedy was his work ethic. He was definitely one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood, if not the hardest-working. In an exclusive interview, Witherspoon offered some straight talk about the difference between looking busy and staying busy.
“George Burns lived to be 100-years-old and he worked when he was 100. I’m in and out of [Los Angeles] about 46 weeks [out of every year], Witherspoon told disc jockeys at the 98 Rock Baltimore radio station during a November 2017 interview.
Affectionately known as “Pops,” Witherspoon’s beloved hilarious Papa Bear demeanor brought him much favor from his legions of fans and celebrity colleagues alike. In many of his roles, he played the blue-collar family man who knew how to have fun and play hard. But he worked even harder to make sure his household’s bills were paid and loved ones were fed.
Witherspoon had a wife (whom he married in 1988) and two children of his own.
However, his tireless dedication to positively touching people’s lives with lessons and laughter made him everyone’s “Pops” in some kind of way. People who felt this way went to his live performances and were raised watching him in his most popular movie and television roles. The fatherly advice he gave in his movie roles always rang true even in jest.
But all good things must come to an end one day; even the lives of Black Hollywood’s biggest stars. Witherspoon died at the age of 77 in Sherman Oaks California on October 29, 2019. Many celebrities (including Ice Cube) made appearances at his memorial services.
However, his loving legacy of humor and living life to the fullest is still alive and well today.