John Witherspoon — the actor who played John “Pops” Williams on The Wayans Bros. sitcom, Willie Jones in the Friday films, and as the voice of Robert “Granddad” Freeman on The Boondocks — passed away on Oct. 30 at age 77. The sudden loss hit Wendy Williams hard, who cried when relaying the news on The Wendy Williams Show. “I didn’t know him know him, but he’d been on my radio show,” she told the audience. “He’d been here on the TV show. We didn’t hear that he was sick. He died suddenly.”
“He was Pops!” she said. “He was in Boomerang.” Wendy paused to wipe away her tears (“I don’t want to mess up my makeup, so I’ll stick using a [q-tip instead of a tissue”) before continuing her loving tribute to the Witherspoon. “He was only 77 years old, and we never saw him sickly. He was with it and just…that guy. So, shout-out to his wife, to his two sons, and the rest of his family and friends. Rest in peace John Witherspoon.”
“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 a huge deal to us.” The cause of John’s death was not made immediately known.
Born John Weatherspoon in Detroit in 1942, John began a stand-up comedy career in the late 1970s. He also pursued acting with several guest-starring roles on shows like Good Times, and Barnaby Jones. He also appeared in movies like Vampire In Brooklyn, The Ladies Man, I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, and the previously mentioned Friday series. However, his first love was always stand-up, and he continued to perform regularly at comedy clubs across the world.
Tributes began pouring in after the news of John’s death broke. “I’m sad. Broken. Hurt.. yet extremely grateful to God that i got to spend 5 years of my life working with one of the funniest sweetest wisest humblest loving man @johnnywitherspoon,” Marlon Wayans, who co-created The Wayans Bros. show, wrote on Instagram, per Deadline. “You were my tv dad and my mentor and my friend. I miss you already.” “I’m devastated over the passing of John Witherspoon,” wrote Ice Cube. “Life won’t be as funny without him.”