John ‘Pops’ Witherspoon, 77, died Tuesday, Oct. 29, leaving a legacy of movies, television shows and skits for his fans to cherish and laugh at for decades more.
“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,” the Witherspoon family tweeted out. “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 a huge deal to us.”
Born in Detroit, Witherspoon began a career in stand-up comedy and acted in the 1970s. Some of his early feature show debuts include “Barnaby Jones” and “Good Times.” In the 1980s, he played in “The Jazz Singer,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “What’s Happening Now!!”
The 1990s brought Witherspoon to a new level—in one of the most well-known black comedy movies, “Friday.”
“Friday” was about two friends, Craig Jones and Smokey—played by Ice Cube and Chris Tucker —getting in trouble in a neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Witherspoon played Craig’s dad in the movie. He made us laugh by criticizing his son alongside his light hearted and raunchy jokes. Whenever Witherspoon was on camera, he stole the scene.
“Don’t nobody go in the bathroom for about 35, 45 minutes,” Witherspoon said. “Somebody open up a window.”
Although his character gave the audience many laughs, he gave good advice. His son, Craig, believed bringing a gun for protection was his only shot at winning a fight. This is an issue in many communities and Witherspoon’s character handles it so well.
“This is what makes you a man,” Witherspoon said. “When I was growing up, this was all the protection we needed. You win some, you lose some, but you live. You live to fight another day. Now you think you’re a man with that gun in your hand, don’t you?”
Along with being in movies and TV shows, one of Witherspoon’s most well known voice acting roles was in the “Boondocks.”
In the “Boondocks,” Witherspoon played Robert ‘Grandad’ Freeman—a black retiree living in the rich suburbs. Grandad eventually has to take care of his two grandsons, Hugh and Riley Freeman.
The cartoon, based on both western and eastern animation, discussed stereotypes, racism, sexism and issues in the black community.
Witherspoon brought Grandad to life with his dry humor.
“How many times have I told you, you bet’ not even dream of tellin’ white folk the truth?” Grandad said. “You understand me? Shoot… makin’ white people riot. You better learn how to lie like me. I’m gonna find me a white man and lie to him right now.”
Although, we will mourn the loss of Witherspoon, let’s focus on the joy he gave in our lives while he was alive.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @taylorkendyll.