John Amos may be days away from celebrating his 80th birthday, but so many of his wishes have already come true. On Tuesday night, he was reunited with legendary television producer Norman Lear, and former Good Times co-stars Bern Nadette Stanis, Jimmie Walker, and Ja’net Dubois on ABC’s Live In Front of a Studio Audience.
Amos, who continues to act and is also a children’s book author, spoke to EW about his big return to the world of the popular 1970s show that he departed after its third season due to creative differences with Lear.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It was a total surprise to see you return to Good Times for this TV special. How did it come about?
JOHN AMOS: I was informed that they were doing Live in Front of a Studio Audience, where they’d be doing a recapitulation of a Good Times episode. That meant working with Norman Lear again, which was like a quadruple blessing. Norman and I have a history that goes back a number of decades. He literally changed the face of television for all time. He’s the most creative person I’ve ever worked with in my career, and I feel so blessed to have been able to work with him again.
You and Mr. Lear had a very public falling out after your contract was not renewed after the show’s third season. Is that all water under the bridge?
Oh yeah! We dealt with our differences a number of years ago. In fact, I went on to do at least three other pilots for him. They all could’ve been very successful if they had been handled the right way by the media. Norman was one of the most dominant and creative forces on television at the time. He had several of the top 10 shows at the time, and there were some people that were quite jealous of him. They showed their jealousy by not showing support for his shows that they should’ve received.
One way or the other, we resolved our differences. There were other relationships that we had that culminated last night. I was very fortunate to be alive to do another episode of Good Times. Oddly enough, I was playing opposite the character that I had played on the original show. It was such a wonderful reunion with Norman and his creative staff.
When you walked onto the set, you were met face to face by Andre Braugher who was playing the role you made famous all those years ago. How did you feel?
It was so surreal! It was the first time I ever played opposite a character that I’d played for a number of years. And to have Andre Braugher playing James couldn’t have been more of a compliment. He’s an accomplished actor who I worked with on Shakespeare in the Park. It was a wonderful experience working with Andre back then, and again last night.
How do you think the rest of the cast did?
Viola [Davis] was just wonderful in the role of Florida. Everyone really did such a great job. It was thanks to Tiffany Haddish, who played Willona, that I was able to celebrate my birthday with so many great people that night. My 80th birthday is two days after Christmas, but she made sure that it was a celebration for me early.
I really felt a tremendous outpouring of love. I was in tears for most of the night, but they were tears of joy.
It was also a reunion between you and your former co-stars. How long had it been since you all last saw each other?
Bern Nadette and I have seen each other recently. She tours the country with her husband, who is quite an accomplished businessman, where she meets with numerous military personnel with her now three books. She’s become a wonderful author. And I work with her and her husband doing the same thing for the military, which is important to me being an ex-military man myself.
Fans are in for another treat from you in 2020 when you reprise your role win Coming to America 2. What has Cleo McDowell been up to after all these years?
It’s been so exciting to be back working with Eddie Murphy again. Working with him as an actor has been a supreme joy. He’s a consummate artist, transitioning from one character to another with such flawless ease. He’s a study in how to act and how to be a successful comic.
Being reunited with Eddie, Arsenio [Hall], and James Earl Jones was such a privilege.
With so many of your wishes already having come true, what did you wish for when you blew our your candles?
I wished that everyone watching the episode last night really enjoyed it, as well as all the other work that I’ve done throughout my career. I wish that all the love and happiness we felt doing that episode was shared with those at home. I wish everyone a peaceful and happy New Year. Right now, we really need love and respect for each other now more than we ever have in this country’s history.
When I started in this industry, I was a writer. I feel that I’ve finally come full circle now that I’ve written my children’s book called A World Without Color. I have no plans to retire, but I’ll be pulling back a little bit just to enjoy my children and my grandchildren, and to enjoy life. I’m living in Colorado in a very low profile fashion. But I am involved and have access to the local theatrical groups that have some fine young actors of all ages in it from my local area.
So I will continue to work until I can’t work anymore. Norman is still working well into his nineties. He makes me feel like I’m just getting started.
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