Johnny Brown, ‘Good Times’ Actor and Broadway Performer, Dies at 84
Johnny Brown, the actor, comedian and singer best known for his role as superintendent Nathan Bookman on the popular 70s sitcom “Good Times,” died Wednesday. He was 84 years old.
Brown’s death was confirmed by his daughter, Broadway actress Sharon Catherine Brown, through a post shared on her Instagram. No further details on Brown’s death are available at this time.
“He was literally snatched out of our lives. It’s not real for us yet,” Sharon Catherine Brown wrote. “So there will be more to say but not now. Dad was the absolute best. We love him so very much.”
Prior to his sitcom stardom, Brown was a seasoned entertainment veteran, regularly performing in nightclub acts with his future wife, June Russell. Early in his career he dabbled in recording music, releasing the single “Walkin’, Talkin’, Kissin’ Doll” for Columbia Records in 1961 and “You’re Too Much in Love With Yourself” for Atlantic Records in 1968.
In 1964, Brown was featured in a supporting role in a Broadway musical adaptation of the Clifford Odets play “Golden Boy,” where he lead the musical number “Don’t Forget 127th Street.” The show, which starred his friend and entertainment legend Sammy Davis Jr., lasted more than 500 performances. In 1968, he played a lead in the short lived Broadway play “Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights,” which was directed by Sidney Poiter and featured an all-star cast including Cicely Tyson, Diane Ladd, Lewis Gossett Jr. and David Steinberg.
Brown landed his first on-screen role in 1966, as a blind pianist in “A Man Called Adam,” which starred “Good Times” co-star Ja’Net DuBois and starred Davis. His first TV role was as a regular cast member in the short-lived, 1969 variety show “The Leslie Uggams Show,” which was the first American variety series to be hosted by a Black woman. A year later, he was hired for the third season of the popular “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” where he was a regular cast member and performer for the remainder of the show’s run.
One of the “Laugh-In” writers, Allan Manings, served as a producer on “Good Times.” After “Laugh-In” ended in 1973, Brown would join the “Good Times” cast during the second season in a recurring role. He would be promoted to main cast member for the show’s fifth and sixth seasons. The CBS-sitcom, created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans, starred Esther Rolle and John Amos as the parents of a family living in a poor Chicago neighborhood public housing development. Jimmie Walker, Bern Nadette Stanis and Ralph Carter portrayed their kids, while DuBois played their neighbor Willona. The series was notable for being the first American TV show to feature a Black two-parent household. As the superintendent Bookman, Brown was a frequent target of derision for the rest of the characters, and one of the biggest sources of laughs in the show.
Aside from “Good Times,” Brown guest starred on many sitcoms during that era, including “Maude,” “Julia,” “Love, American Style,” “The Rookies,” “Lotsa Luck” and “Chico and the Man.” After “Good Times” ended in 1979, he would continue to make appearances on notable TV shows for the next two decades, including “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “The Jeffersons,” “Fantasy Island,” “Punky Brewster,” “Moonlighting,” “Martin,” “Family Matters,” “Sister, Sister,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” “Touched By An Angel,” “Kenan & Kel” and “Everybody Hates Chris.” He also had notable film roles such as “The Wiz” in 1978 and “Hanky Panky” in 1982, which reunited him with his old Broadway director Poiter. In the late ’80s, he played the lead in “The Gospel Truth,” a musical comedy that toured across the U.S and featured music by former Motown songwriter and record producer William Stevenson.
Brown is survived by his wife of 61 years Jane Russell, his children Sharon and John Jr., younger brother Elijah and 2 grandchildren.
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