John Witherspoon’s Death at Age 77 Prompts an Outpouring of Celebrity Tributes

“The definition of an icon.”

2004 AND1 Mix Tape Tour - Los Angeles Open Run
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On Tuesday night, the family of John Witherspoon announced that the actor and comedian had died at age 77, prompting an outpouring of tributes that’s continued well into Wednesday morning. After all, Witherspoon wasn’t just a father figure to viewers of the Friday franchise; over the course of his decades-long career he also played the on-screen dads (and grandpas) of everyone from Regina King and Kerry Washington to Ice Cube and Marlon Wayans.

Born in Detroit, Witherspoon started out working as a model before pivoting to stand-up comedy, at which point he quickly befriended legends like Robin Williams and Richard Pryor. In 1995, he memorably starred in Friday, and reprised his beloved role of the grumpy Willie Jones in the sequels Next Friday and Friday After Next. In between starring in films like Little Man, Dr. Doolittle 2, and Boomerang, he also won widespread acclaim for voicing Robert “Granddad” Freeman in the TV adaptation of The Boondocks from 2005 to 2014. (Over the years, he also voiced roles in shows ranging from Kim Possible to Bojack Horseman.)

Regina King, who voiced the grandchildren of Witherspoon’s character on The Boondocks, was one of the first of many to share a tribute to Witherspoon, describing him as “my dad, my grandpa, my comedic inspiration!” Also on Twitter, Ice Cube wrote that he was “devastated” by the news: “Life won’t be as funny without him.” Chance the Rapper echoed his sentiments, calling Witherspoon “the definition of an icon.”

Others, like Questlove, wrote lengthier tributes on Instagram. “John Witherspoon resonated with every last one of us because he represented someone in our family: embarrassing us at gatherings (Boomerang), misrepresenting our generations heroes (“Public Enema”?!), making a jingle about pretty much everything (Grandpa on Boondocks), the neighborhood wino (black Jesus—or better yet Hollywood Shuffle)—the list is endless,” Questlove wrote. “Bar none my favorite working/blue collar actor. Prolly THE most famous iconic character actor (I mean he didn’t star in vehicles but he was no doubt THE go to support).” Read his full tribute and more from Reese Witherspoon, Busta Rhymes, Leslie Jones, Judd Apatow, Jackée Harry, Martin Lawrence, Jay Pharoah, and Arsenio Hall, here.

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