Witherspoon, John 1942–
John Witherspoon 1942–
Well known to movie audiences for his appearances in the series of Friday movies starring rapper Ice Cube, character actor John Wither-spoon’s popularity took root in a new generation after he had spent more than 30 years in show business. Getting his start as a standup comic in the early 1970s, Witherspoon appeared in some of the most popular sitcoms of the decade, including Good Times and What’s Happening!! Equally adept at playing dramatic character roles, Witherspoon also appeared in acclaimed shows such as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and Frank’s Place in the 1980s. Over the next decade his acting range and improvisational skills gradually led to parts in a diverse set of films that included Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, Keenen Ivory Wayans’s I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, and Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang. After becoming a regular performer on television in the The Wayans Brothers Show in 1994, Witherspoon played the character of Mr. Jones in the Hollywood movie Friday, a box office hit that led to two sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next. Building on his success, Witherspoon has branched out into screen writing, announcing a new movie project, From the Old School, in which he plans to take a starring role as an elderly man working to prevent the conversion of a neighborhood corner store into a strip club.
John Weatherspoon (later Witherspoon) was born in Detroit, Michigan, on January 27, 1942, and grew up as one of eleven children. As a child, Witherspoon occasionally worked as a model. Both Witherspoon and his older brother William showed an early interest in music. The young John Witherspoon learned to play the French horn and trumpet, and William went on to make a career for himself as a songwriter and producer at Motown Records in the 1960s. John Witherspoon soon began a career as a standup comic. Some African-American comedians such as Moms Mabley and Flip Wilson had become household names by the late 1960s, through their appearances on television variety shows, but there had been fewer inroads made on the integrated nightclub circuit by black comedians. Despite the obstacles, by the early 1970s Witherspoon had made a name for himself as a standup act. He had also made a number of friends in the business, including Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Sandra Bernhard, Marsha Warfield, and Tim Reid, as well as David Letter man, who would later serve as godfather to both of Witherspoon’s sons.
At a Glance…
Born on January 27, 1942, in Detroit, Ml; married Angela Robinson; children: John David, Alexander.
Career: Movie and television actor and standup comedian, 1973-; appearances include: Barnaby Jones, 1973; Good Times, 1974; Hill Street Blues, 1981; Martin, 1992; Friday, 1995; Next Friday, 2000; Friday After Next, 2002.
Addresses: Talent agent —Chris Smith, International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Booking agents —Capitol International Productions, 44 Fox Trail, Lincolnshire, IL 60069, and Patterson and Associates, 20318 Hiawatha Street, Suite 100, Chatsworth, CA 91311. Official website —http://www.bangbangbangbang.com.
While pursuing his standup work, Witherspoon made an easy transition into television acting. One of his first appearances came on the hit detective series Barnaby Jones in 1973. During the rest of the decade, Witherspoon appeared in some of the most-watched situation comedies of the era, including African-American shows such as Good Times and What’s Happening!!, and the popular comedy WKRP in Cincinnati, which also featured his friend Tim Reid. Witherspoon joined Reid again in the comedy-drama Frank’s Place in 1987, one of dozens of television appearances that he made in the 1980s. Balancing his roles between drama and comedy, Witherspoon’s most notable television roles during the decade included appearances on Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, in addition to a guest-starring role in the comedy Amen. All the while, Witherspoon continued to work as a successful standup comic. He married actress and artist Angela Robinson, whom he met on the movie set of Out of the Dark, and the couple would later reside in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Thousand Oaks, California, with their two sons, John David and Alexander.
Witherspoon’s film career got off to a slower start. He appeared in the lackluster Neil Diamond drama The Jazz Singer in 1980, but it was several years before his Hollywood breakthrough appearance came in Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, a role he mostly ad-libbed on the set. In the 1990s Witherspoon worked with Townsend again in the film The Five Heartbeats and in the television project Townsend Television. He made another lasting association with the Wayans family when he appeared in Keenen Ivory Wayans’s blaxploitation parody, I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, in 1988. Six years later Witherspoon became a featured performer on The Wayans Brothers Show as crotchety “Pop” Williams, a character he would portray through 1999. With the growth of African-American sitcoms on new television networks such as the Fox and Warner Brothers networks, the 1990s were a busy decade for Witherspoon. In addition to appearing on Living Single and Martin, Witherspoon also popped up on Waynehead and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Witherspoon’s most successful film appearances in the 1990s included parts in the comedies House Party with rappers Kid n’ Play and Boomerang with fellow comedian Eddie Murphy, and in the dramas Murder Was the Case and A Vampire in Brooklyn. In 1995 Witherspoon took on his most widely visible role as Mr. Jones, the father of the character played by rapper Ice Cube, in the movie Friday. Witherspoon returned in both the film’s sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next, and Witherspoon became a cult icon as a result of the appearances. An Entertainment Weekly review of Friday After Next noted, “It’s always amusing to see John Witherspoon, as the addled Mr. Jones, do his crotchety-to-the-point-of-hysteria routine.”
In 2001 Witherspoon announced that he would be collaborating with Ice Cube on a script that they envisioned as “an urban Grumpy Old Men,” and according to a Hollywood Reporter article, Witherspoon would star in the movie, to be titled From the Old School. Witherspoon has also continued to work as a standup comic and made appearances in the Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky in 2000 and as the voice of an animal in the Eddie Murphy comedy Dr. Dolittle 2 in 2001.
The Jazz Singer, 1980.
Hollywood Shuffle, 1987.
I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, 1988.
The Five Heartbeats, 1991.
Fakin’ Da Funk, 1997.
Next Friday, 2000.
Little Nicky, 2000.
Friday After Next, 2002.
Barnaby Jones, 1973.
Good Times, 1974.
What’s Happening!!, 1976.
Hill Street Blues, 1981.
L.A. Law, 1986.
Frank’s Place, 1987.
Living Single, 1993.
The Wayans Brothers Show, 1994-1999.
Black Elegance, April 1998, p. 72.
Entertainment Weekly, November 29, 2002, p. 80.
Hollywood Reporter, August 23, 2001, p. 2.
People, May 8, 1995, p. 24.
Bang Bang Bang Bang.com (Official John Witherspoon web site), http://www.bangbangbangbang.com/bio.html
Capitol International Productions, http://www.capitolint.com/johnwitherspoon.bio.htm
Internet Movie Database, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Witherspoon,+John
Patterson and Associates, http://www.pattersonandassociates.com/bios/John_Witherspoon/
Witherspoon, John 1942–
WITHERSPOON, John 1942–
("Detroit" John Witherspoon, Johnny Witherspoon)
Original surname, Weatherspoon; born January 27, 1942, in Detroit, MI; brother of William Weatherspoon (a songwriter and record producer); married Angela Robinson (an actress and artist); children: John David, Alexander.
Addresses: Agent—International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Manager—Power Entertainment, 7461 Beverly Blvd., Suite 301, Los Angeles, CA 90036.
Career: Actor. Worked as a stand–up comedian; opening act for such performers as Ashford and Simpson, the Commodores, George Benson, Roberta Flack, Tom Jones, and Chaka Khan. Worked as a fashion model in Detroit, MI; appeared in commercials.
Master of ceremonies at Cinderella Club, The Jazz Singer, Associated Film, 1980.
Heavy, Ratboy, Warner Bros., 1986.
Pimp, Kidnapped, 1986.
Mr. Jones, Hollywood Shuffle (also known as Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle), Samuel Goldwyn, 1987.
Reverend, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1988.
Sid, Bird, Warner Bros., 1988.
Mr. Strickland, House Party, New Line Cinema, 1990.
Dukie, Talkin' Dirty after Dark, New Line Cinema, 1991.
Evan Rood, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back!, Fox Video, 1991.
Wild Rudy, The Five Heartbeats, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1991.
Mr. Jackson, Boomerang, Paramount, 1992.
Voice of first card player, Bebe's Kids (animated; also known as Robin Harris' Bebe's Kids), Paramount, 1992.
Arch, Fatal Instinct, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1993.
Clarence James Carter III, The Meteor Man, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1993.
First drunk, Murder Was the Case (short film), Interscope Records, 1994.
Mr. Jones, Friday, New Line Cinema, 1995.
Silas Green, Vampire in Brooklyn (also known as Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn), Paramount, 1995.
Bill, Fakin' Da Funk, Image Entertainment, 1997.
Detective, Sprung, Trimark Pictures, 1997.
The Delicatessen Story, 1997.
Mr. Mimm, I Got the Hook Up, Dimension Films, 1998.
Reverend Morris, Bulworth, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1998.
Roscoe, Ride, Dimension Films, 1998.
Mr. Jones, Next Friday, New Line Cinema, 2000.
Scrap Iron, The Ladies Man (also known as The Ladies'Man), Paramount, 2000.
Street vendor, Little Nicky, New Line Cinema, 2000.
Voice of second zoo bear, Dr. Dolittle 2 (also known as DR2 and DR.2), Twentieth Century–Fox, 2001.
Mr. Jones, Friday after Next, New Line Cinema, 2002.
Blind man, Soul Plane, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 2004.
Voice of Satchel Paige, Are We There Yet?, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2004.
Television Appearances; Series:
(As "Detroit" John Witherspoon) Himself, The Richard Pryor Show, NBC, 1977.
Himself and various characters, Townsend Television, Fox, 1993.
John "Pops" Williams, The Wayans Bros., The WB, 1995–1999.
Voice of Dad, Waynehead (animated), The WB, 1996–1997.
Spoon, The Tracy Morgan Show, NBC, 2003–2004.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Wes Thomas, High Freakquency (also known as 24/7 Radio), Black Entertainment Television, 1998.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The Comedy Store 15th Year Class Reunion, NBC, 1988.
Sinbad and Friends All the Way Live ... Almost, ABC, 1991.
"The First Commandment," Cosmic Slop, HBO, 1994.
Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, syndicated, 1996.
Voice of scofflaw, The Princess and the Pauper: An Animated Special from the "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child" Series (animated), HBO, 2000.
The Sixth Annual Sears Soul Train Christmas Starfest, UPN, 2003.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Master of ceremonies, "Disco Dollar Disaster," What's Happening!!, ABC, 1978.
(As Johnny Witherspoon) Tom, "The Final Round," The Incredible Hulk, CBS, 1978.
Frank Wales, "School of Terror," Barnaby Jones, CBS, 1979.
Officer Lawson, "A Matter of Mothers," Good Times, CBS, 1979.
Detective Davies, "Circumstantial Evidence," WKRP in Cincinnati, CBS, 1982.
First businessperson, "The Young, the Beautiful, and the Degraded," Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1982.
The Redd Foxx Show, ABC, 1986.
Guest, Late Night with David Letterman, multiple appearances, NBC, between 1986 and 1993.
Adam, "Family Life," What's Happening Now!!, syndicated, 1987.
Second man, "Low Noon," 227, NBC, 1987.
"Season Greetings," Frank's Place, CBS, 1987.
The bailiff, "A Slight Case of Murder: Parts 1 & 2," Amen, NBC, 1988.
Mark Steadman, "On Your Honor," L.A. Law, NBC, 1990.
Uncle Junior, "Thanks for Nothing," Martin, Fox, 1993.
Guest, The Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, multiple appearances, beginning 1993.
Augustus Adams, "The Harder They Fall," The Fresh Prince of Bel–Air, NBC, 1994.
Host, Soul Train, syndicated, 1994.
Smoke Eye Howard, "Three Men and a Buckeye," Living Single, Fox, 1997.
Oran Jones, "The Adventures in BeBe–Sitting," The Proud Family (animated), The Disney Channel, 2003.
Celebrity talent scout, Last Comic Standing: The Search for the Funniest Person in America (also known as Last Comic Standing), NBC, 2003.
Appeared in episodes of 106 and Park (also known as 106 & Park: BET's Top 10 Live), Black Entertainment Television; Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam, HBO; and You Again?, NBC. Also appeared in episodes of other series, including Brother 2 Brother and Live in LA.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Fredic Dickson, Sunday in Paris, NBC, 1991.
Bert, The Boys, ABC, 1992.
Grandpa, The Last Days of Russell, ABC, 1995.
"I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)," by Jay–Z, 2000.
"Imitation of Life," by R.E.M., 2001.
Sinbad and Friends All the Way Live ... Almost, ABC, 1991.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 38, Gale, 2003.
Black Elegance, April, 1998, p. 72.
Entertainment Weekly, November 29, 2002, p. 80.
People Weekly, May 8, 1995, p. 24.
John Witherspoon Official Site,http://www.bangbangbangbang.com, July 4, 2004.