Witherspoon’s family confirmed his death in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
“It is with deepest sorrow that we can confirm our beloved husband and father, John Witherspoon, one of the hardest working men in show business, died today at his home in Sherman Oaks at the age of 77,” the family said in a statement.
Witherspoon, who was born John Weatherspoon in Detroit in 1942, started his career as a stand-up comic and continued to play clubs throughout his life. In one of his early roles, on Barnaby Jones, Witherspoon played a counselor at a camp for drug-addicted children alongside a young Sean Penn in Penn’s first credited role.
Later, Witherspoon appeared in Good Times, What’s Happening!! and The Incredible Hulk, among others. He became a regular on The Richard Pryor Show. Years later, he had recurring roles in The Wayans Bros. and The Tracy Morgan Show.
He voiced Robert “Granddad” Freeman in the animated sitcom The Boondocks, which wrapped in 2014. However, in May, Witherspoon said the show and his character were set for a revival.
His feature films included Hollywood Shuffle, Boomerang, Vampire in Brooklyn, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Bird, The Meteor Man and all three of the Friday comedies starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker — Friday (1995), Next Friday (2000) and Friday After Next (2002).
Ice Cube tweeted that “Life won’t be as funny without him.”
Witherspoon is survived by his wife, Angela, and two sons, JD and Alexander. The family was “in shock” over his death and asked for privacy.
“John used to say ‘I’m no big deal,’ but he was huge deal to us,” the family said in a statement.
CorrectionOct. 30, 2019
A previous version of this story said that Witherspoon’s first television role was on the show Barnaby Jones. His first role was actually on The Richard Pryor Show.