EW revisits some of John Witherspoon most iconic roles (and where to find them).

By Clarkisha Kent
October 30, 2019 at 07:51 PM EDT
Meredith has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Meredith may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.
Advertisement

Fans of John "Pops" Witherspoon, who died Tuesday, have been sharing tributes to the actor and comedy legend on social media, noting some of his most popular roles in the process. His legacy in comedy and black cinema reaches back to the early 1980s, when he made his film debut in The Jazz Singer., and went on to star in the Friday movie franchise, alongside Eddie Murphy in a handful of movies, and playing a father figure to many, including, on TV, the Wayans brothers and on The Boondocks.

During his nearly 40-year career, he left a big impression on Hollywood, his costars, and audiences. Below, EW celebrates Witherspoon by looking back on five of his most memorable roles.

Willie Jones in Friday

FRIDAY
Credit: Everett Collection

In the three-movie Friday franchise, Witherspoon played Willie Jones, dog catcher and loving (but firm) father to main character Craig Jones (Ice Cube). Witherspoon is remembered for his important speech at the near-climax of the film, where he tells Craig that he should use his fists to solve his problems, rather than a gun.

Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, YouTube, Apple/iTunes, or RedBox.

Granddad on The Boondocks

John Witherspoon; The Boondocks
Credit: Jason Merritt/FilmMagic; Adult Swim

In The Boondocks, Witherspoon played Robert Freeman, a.k.a. Granddad, who happened to be both the grandfather and legal guardian of grandsons Huey Freeman (Regina King) and Riley Freeman (Regina King). It's one of Witherspoon's more celebrated roles because of the vast nature of his voice acting range and the role's semi-outlandish nature. There are running gags about no one knowing how old Granddad is, his assorted involvement in the 1960s civil rights movement, his obsession with dangerous and/or unstable women, and how old age has not stopped him from being able to deliver a good whoopin'.

Where to watch it: Currently streaming on Hulu; headed to HBO Max in May 2020.

Pops in The Wayans Bros.

THE WAYANS BROS
Credit: Everett Collection

On The WB's The Wayans Bros., Witherspoon played John Williams, a.k.a. Pops. As the father of main characters Shawn Williams (Shawn Wayans) and Marlon Williams (Marlon Wayans) and the owner of restaurant and historical landmark Pop's Joint, Witherspoon was a perpetual scene-stealer in this role. He was frequently roasted by his TV sons for his "tacky" attire, even if he thought his loud outfits were pretty snazzy, and he loved to play fast and loose with his cooking (meaning, tomorrow's chili was yesterday's meatloaf leftovers). He was also famously discovered to be a flamenco dancer, an aspiring politician, AND he was once a member of a singing group called the "Temptones" — whose famous song was "My Love Goes Bang, Bang, Bang."

Where to watch it: Reruns on MTV2 and VH1; rent on Apple/iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.

Mr. Jackson in Boomerang

Boomerang
Credit: Paramount

In Boomerang, Witherspoon played Mr. Jackson, who was Gerard's (David Alan Grier) father and Marcus' (Eddie Murphy) best friend. Witherspoon stole the show with continuous gags about his wife's cooking and the film's very hilarious "you gotta coordinate" bit. <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">“The secret is you got to coordinate. Most people don’t COOOORRRDINNATE.” - John Witherspoon on fashion in “Boomerang” 😂 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JohnWitherspoon?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JohnWitherspoon</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/EddieMurphy?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#EddieMurphy</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Boomerang?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Boomerang</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIPPops?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RIPPops</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Classic?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Classic</a> <a href="https://t.co/gNsLUViPA9">pic.twitter.com/gNsLUViPA9</a></p>— ShakariSBriggs (@ShakariSBriggs) <a href="https://twitter.com/ShakariSBriggs/status/1189429719504216064?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 30, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>wFœÙÝ{qÿvÓg}Û}_ß¾ýuÿ9ç†Û­9ݧ7

Where to watch it: Currently streaming for free with Amazon Prime Video or Roku subscriptions, as well as on Tubi and for free [with ads] on Vudu.

Silas Green in Vampire in Brooklyn

VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN
Credit: Everett Collection

In Vampire in Brooklyn, Witherspoon played a ship inspector named Silas Green. He is one of the first characters to encounter the vampire Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) when he saves his nephew, Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison), from being jumped and killed by Italian mobsters. Witherspoon serves as comedic relief throughout the film, but his initial description of Maximillian as a "big stinking ass wolf" was comedic gold. <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">“You seen the wolf man... to the 25th power?!?” 🤣🤣 &lt;— John Witherspoon in “Vampire in Brooklyn” <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JohnWitherspoon?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JohnWitherspoon</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIPPops?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RIPPops</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/VampireInBrooklyn?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#VampireInBrooklyn</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/EddieMurphy?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#EddieMurphy</a> <a href="https://t.co/PuCcdV0vsn">pic.twitter.com/PuCcdV0vsn</a></p>— ShakariSBriggs (@ShakariSBriggs) <a href="https://twitter.com/ShakariSBriggs/status/1189431596807573504?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 30, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>é¾:ó­õo×Z÷‡ú]sž·Ñ½¹Õï}§<Ó~4

Where to watch it: Currently streaming for free for Amazon Prime Video subscribers; rent on YouTube or RedBox.

Related content:

Comments