John Witherspoon, who died at the age of 77 on Oct. 30, leaves behind a long and historic resume of amazing films aside from his iconic television stints on The Wayans Bros. and The Boondocks. While all of his film performances deserve mention, here are just 10 of his most iconic and unique roles.
A generation of Millennials grew up knowing Witherspoon from his role as Ice Cube’s cranky father, Mr. Jones, in the 1995 comedy Friday. This film endeared Witherspoon to a new audience that would support him in other modern projects, like Aaron McGruder’s adaptation of his popular comic strip, The Boondocks.
Witherspoon had a small role in Eddie Murphy’s 1992 romantic comedy Boomerang, but he stole the show as Gerard’s (David Alan Grier) father, Mr. Jackson. He constantly and inadvertently embarrassed his son by talking about chitlins, messing up Marcus’ (Murphy) bathroom, and talking about how it’s important to “coordinate” outfits.
3. Vampire in Brooklyn
Murphy would work with Witherspoon again in his 1995 horror-comedy Vampire in Brooklyn. In the film, Witherspoon played Silas Green, whose nephew, Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison), ends up going through an extraordinary night as a zombie and later as a reborn vampire himself.
4. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka
Witherspoon starred in Keenen Ivory Wayans’ directorial debut, 1988’s blaxploitation spoof, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, as the reverend that presided over Jack Spade’s (Wayans) brother Junebug’s funeral. The film was also the acting debut of comedian Robin Harris, whom Witherspoon would work with later in Bébé’s Kids.
5. Bébé’s Kids
The 1992 adult animated comedy was based on Robin Harris’ standup act featuring his story of trying to win over a woman named Jamika by going with her, her friend (and less than stellar mother) Bébé, and Bébé’s ill-behaved children to a theme park. While Faizon Love made his acting debut as the voice of Harris (who died two years before the film was released), Witherspoon starred as one of the card players in the neighborhood.
6. House Party
In 1990, Witherspoon starred in House Party, the comedy starring Kid ‘n Play. Coincidentally, the film also starred Harris, who died nine days after the film’s release. Witherspoon played Mr. Strickland, one of Kid ‘n Play’s neighbors who hated the loud party going on next door.
7. Hollywood Shuffle
Witherspoon starred in 1987’s satirical comedy Hollywood Shuffle, directed, co-written and produced by Robert Townsend. Witherspoon played Mr. Jones, the boss of Winky Dinky Dog, where aspiring actor Bobby (Townsend) is his employee. Wayans also stars in the film as Bobby’s co-worker Donald.
8. A Thousand Words
Witherspoon worked with Murphy once again in the 2012 comedy A Thousand Words, which stars Murphy as a literary agent whose life begins to depend on every word he says, thanks to a magical tree. Witherspoon played a blind man who Murphy has to help across the street with hilarious results.
9. Fakin’ da Funk
Witherspoon starred in the 1997 comedy Fakin’ da Funk, starring Dante Basco, Pam Grier, Ernie Hudson, Tichina Arnold, Rudy Ray Moore, Margaret Cho and Tatyana Ali. The story follows Julian (Basco), a Chinese boy who has been adopted into a Black household. After his father (Hudson) dies, Julian and his mother (Grier) move to Atlanta. Witherspoon starred as Bill, part of the family that houses foreign-exchange student May-Ling (Cho).
10. The Meteor Man
Witherspoon starred with Townsend once again in The Meteor Man, Townsend’s 1993 comedy. The film follows Jefferson Reed (Townsend), a high school teacher who becomes a superhero to battle against the gang in his Washington D.C. neighborhood. Witherspoon played a character named Clarence James Carter III. The film also stars other big names such as James Earl Jones, Don Cheadle, Sinbad, Nancy Wilson, Marla Gibbs, Jenifer Lewis, Luther Vandross, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature, Another Bad Creation, Biz Markie, Beverly Johnson, Lela Rochon, Eddie Griffin and Robert Guillaume.
What is your favorite Witherspoon performance?
Photo: New Line Cinema
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