Remembering John Witherspoon: A Look Back at 'America's Dad' on 'Friday' Set (Exclusive)
By Antoinette Bueno
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Actor John Witherspoon has died, but his legacy as America's dad will live on.
Witherspoon's family confirmed his death on Tuesday in a statement, and said he died at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 77 years old. The actor is survived by his wife, Angela Robinson, and their two sons, JD and Alexander.
Witherspoon's real-life experience as a dad definitely translated onscreen, as he was best known for playing Ice Cube's cranky but beloved dad in the Friday series. ET was on the set of Friday in 1994 -- which spawned two sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next -- and it was clear that Witherspoon, in particular, was adored by his co-stars, including Chris Tucker and Regina King.
"Mr. Witherspoon is one of the funniest men in the whole world," Tucker told ET.
Meanwhile, Witherspoon hilariously stressed his message for all the kids of America -- get a job.
"Get a job, kids. That's my theme, get a job," he told ET as Tucker laughed in the background. "The kids of America, please get a damn job. Get out of the house, leave the refrigerator alone. Stop wearing my shoes. Leave my shirts alone, get a job. Spend your own money."
"I have a kid that's six years old, I want him to get a job," he also cracked.
Witherspoon said his attitude came from growing up in a family of 11 kids.
"That's my father's theme," he recalled. "Get up in the morning, 'hello, Dad.' 'Get a job, leave the food alone. ... Who took my car?' America, you young kids, get a job. All that sagging, the clothes hanging behind, that ain't nothing. Get a job. You want to be somebody, get a job."
He later became known for playing Shawn and Marlon Williams' dad on the TV series The Wayans Bros., and he noted to ET in 1994 that his onscreen persona was universal.
"I'm every father. I'm not only a black father," he stressed. "I'm a white father. I'm a Chinese father. I'm a Mexican father. I'm all fathers that want their sons out of the house and stop eating up all the food. Get a job, please. Stop looking at the TV."
"You kids turn the music down," he later joked. "I'm the father of all the children in the country. Please keep that noise down. Posters on the wall. Big old head of Snoop Doggy Dogg, a 16-foot poster of Snoop Doggy Dogg."
Despite his no-nonsense attitude, Witherspoon admitted to his own antics growing up.
"My father was a preacher so I wouldn't sing at all when he was around, but as soon as he locked the door, 'La la la ...'" he shared.
Marlon Wayans also took to Instagram to share a moving tribute to the late actor.
"I’m sad. Broken. Hurt.. yet extremely grateful to God that I got to spend 5 years of my life working with one of the funniest sweetest wisest humblest loving man @johnnywitherspoon you were my tv dad and my mentor and my friend," he wrote. "I miss you already. Something don’t feel right. This is heavy on my heart. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love pops. .... Thank you God for the many many many laughs that we shared on and off the set. You got 'all the keys ?' and I know you got one to heaven’s gate. Anytime I want to laugh or to see you I’m gonna put on a episode of Wayans Bros and laugh until I cry. I miss [you] already.... hope you're dancing in heaven with ugly white shoes on. 'Pops pops sugar pops.' #ripjohnwitherspoon #mysecondpops."
Shawn Wayans was also clearly devastated by Witherspoon's death.
"Man I cried myself to sleep last night just thinking about how much I’m going to miss you," he wrote on Instagram. "You are one of the funniest, coolest, wisest dudes I ever met and joy to work with. Thank you for all of the laughs and wisdom you shared with me and my brother throughout the years and also for helping us keep our cool during the Wayans Bros as we fought to make that show what it is. I’m gonna miss our conversations every year about our Favorite holiday Christmas and hearing you sing Johnny Mathis songs and even some of your own ditty’s like MONEY BEING MADE ??AROUND HERE And WHEN MY LOVE GOES BANG BANG BANG ? or when you would gather me you and Marlon in a really tight circle and say our favorite line from Wayans Bros 'NOW MARLON AINT NOBODY GONNA SPEND A THOUSAND DOLLARS AN HOUR TO LOOk ? AT YOUUUUUU' RIP Pops I’m sure gonna miss you. Love you man."