R.I.P. John Witherspoon (1942-2019)

Stand-up comedian and actor John Witherspoon, who started working comedy clubs in the 1970s and was still working the clubs into his 70s, and planned on reviving his role Willie Jones in another Friday movie, has died. Witherspoon was 77.

His family announced the sad news overnight. “It is with deep sadness we have to tweet this, but our husband & father John Witherspoon has passed away. He was a Legend in the entertainment industry, and a father figure to all who watched him over the years. We love you “POPS” always & forever.”

Born John Weatherspoon on Jan. 27, 1942, little Johnny was one of 11 growing up in Detroit. He eventually changed his last name to Witherspoon and joined in the comedy boom hitting Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. After booking a few small TV roles, he got his first big break as a writer/performer on NBC’s short-lived The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. He shared some Pryor stories earlier this year on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

Witherspoon was a house MC at The Comedy Store in the 1970s, and as you can see, played for the comedy club’s basketball team, too, alongside the likes of David Letterman, Tim Reid, Jimmie JJ Walker and Tom Dreesen.

Witherspoon added impersonations of Al Green and Johnny Mathis to his early act for wider appeal. When he performed on Late Night with David Letterman in the 1980s, Paul Shaffer played him with “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” the hit song written by Johnny’s older brother, William.

Witherspoon appeared on the big screen that decade in the seminal cult comedies, Hollywood Shuffle and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

In the 1990s, Witherspoon’s credits included House Party, Boomerang, The Wayans Bros. sitcom (where he played “Pops” for 101 episodes), and of course, the Friday movies, where he played Pops to Ice Cube’s character.

More recently, you could hear Witherspoon on Adult Swim’s The Boondocks and see him on that channel’s Black Jesus.

This summer, he also landed on the new album from Chance the Rapper.

And just a day before Witherspoon died, he’d release a new installment of his webseries, COOKING FOR POOR PEOPLE.

He certainly wasn’t planning to slow down anytime soon. Rest in peace, Pops. You shall be missed.


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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