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
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.
Granddad on The Boondocks
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’.
Rest in Peace to John Witherspoon. Will never forget this iconic moment from The Boondocks with him as Grandad. pic.twitter.com/c5h3bQ8mBq— Roy MuΣtang 🔥 (@_RobJay) October 30, 2019
Pops in The Wayans Bros.
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.”
I’m signing this at my wedding ....RIP Pops pic.twitter.com/bfZrgsKe7K— Uncle Parlay🏁 (@MettaWorld_Mack) October 30, 2019
Mr. Jackson in Boomerang
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.
Silas Green in Vampire in Brooklyn
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.