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Friday Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Set in a single neighborhood over the course of just one day, "Friday" offered a blend of comedy and slice-of-life drama with a strong focus on a sense of place — and an endearing stoner vibe. It was a surprise performer upon its 1995 debut, especially when you consider it was made for the relatively low budget of $3.5 million, bringing in a solid return on investment with more than $27 million earned at the box office. The bigger story, however, may have come via its lucrative home video release, coming at a time when the market was at its peak; suffice it to say, if you went to your local Blockbuster for the next several years, their copy of "Friday" was always rented out. 

Director F. Gary Gray couldn't have expected his first feature film to be such a wild success. But the popularity of "Friday" led to two sequels (2000's "Next Friday" and 2002's "Friday After Next"), a short-lived television show (2007's "Friday: The Animated Series"), and launched Gray on a significant, frequently successful filmmaking career ("Set it Off," "The Italian Job," "Straight Outta Compton").

A planned fourth, final installment in the series has been in and out of development for the past decade, reportedly due to disagreements between Ice Cube and Warner Brothers. Ice Cube had already established himself as a rapper (his classic "It was a Good Day" video was directed by Gray) and actor (his debut, John Singleton's "Boyz n the Hood," was a genre-defining hit), but "Friday" still marked an important first for his career. 

"Friday" was the first film written by Cube (alongside DJ Pooh, who played Red, the guy who gets "knocked the f**k out," as Chris Tucker says in one of the film's many quotable lines), it made Tucker a household name, and showed that beneath Ice Cube's no-nonsense persona, there was a sense of humor. 

Looking back on the film a few decades later, unfortunately a number of significant cast members have passed away. Let's take a minute to remember the "Friday" faces no longer with us. 

Bernie Mac

Bernie Mac had a small but memorable role in "Friday" as the pot-smoking Pastor Clever. Mac, whose real name was Bernard Jeffrey McCollough, rose to prominence as a stand-up comedian before launching a successful acting career. Starting out much younger than most, Mac considered his first standup routine to have been performed for his church congregation at the age of eight. After making his way up the ranks of the Chicago comedy scene in the 7'0s, Mac made his first feature-film appearance in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role as a doorman in the 1992 Damon Wayans vehicle "Mo' Money."

In 2000, Spike Lee released the documentary "The Original Kings of Comedy," a small film whose word-of-mouth made it a sensation. The performance film became a launching pad for the four stand-up comedians it focused on — Mac, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley — and each went on to build significant careers in film and TV. 

Though he didn't return for the "Friday" sequels, Bernie Mac became a scene-stealing familiar face in successful films like "Bad Santa," "Madagascar 2," "Transformers," and Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven," "Twelve," and "Thirteen" series. On television, Mac played a fictionalized version of himself for five seasons on "The Bernie Mac Show." He also starred in such above-the-title films as "Mr. 3000," "Guess Who" and the endearing "Soul Men," which had him singing alongside Samuel L. Jackson.

In 2008, Bernie Mac passed away due to complications from pneumonia. He was 50 years old. His family was with him when he passed, and more than 6,000 people made their way to Chicago's House of Hope church for his memorial service.

"Tiny" Lister

Tom Lister Jr. had a long, impressive career both before and after "Friday." He was often billed using nicknames like "Tiny" or "Zeus,"' referencing his large size and history as a professional wrestler. At 6'5", the muscular, intense Lister cut an imposing figure — as glimpsed in a surprise appearance threatening Howard Stern (at 24:06) in an unruly episode of Magic Johnson's famously terrible "The Magic Hour" talk show. Tiny often found himself in villain and tough-guy roles, where his large stature and threatening stare could be put to full effect, and "Friday" was no different.

Outside of Hollywood, Tiny was deeply involved in sports. He became a Cal State L.A. hall of famer and said of the experience, "Everyone knows that my track and field career, my time at Cal State L.A., is more important to me than my movie career." Tiny was also involved in the WWF as a professional wrestler who fought Hulk Hogan as "Zeus," appearing opposite the wrestling star in the high-profile, critically-derided first-ever WWF-produced film, 1989's "No Holds Barred."

In "Friday," Tiny took on the role of Deebo, the neighborhood menace. From earlier comedic moments all the way to his big, climactic fight scene with Ice Cube's Craig Jones, Tiny was perfectly cast. Tom Lister. Jr. passed away recently in December of 2020, suffering from the effects of COVID-19, although heart disease was listed as the cause of his death. In a tribute to his "Friday" co-star, Ice Cube wrote: "America's favorite bully was a born entertainer who would pop into character at the drop of a hat terrifying people on and off camera. Followed by a big smile and laugh. Thank you for being a good dude at heart. I miss you already."

LaWanda Page

Arriving right at the very start of the film, LaWanda Page made a short appearance during the opening credits for "Friday." She managed to leave quite an impression in less than a minute of screen time, as the Jehovah's Witness who woke Craig up on Friday morning, kicking off the day's events. This seemingly sweet elderly woman then turned on a dime, peppering him with f-bombs.

LaWanda Page's career began at 15 as a fire dancer of all things. But eventually she left the "Bronze Goddess of fire" act behind and started doing stand-up comedy, where she performed on the so-called "Chitlin' Circuit," holding her own alongside the crude, beloved acts of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. 

Decades later, she was on the verge of quitting showbusiness to care for her ailing mother in St. Louis when she received the role that would make her a TV icon, on "Sanford and Son" as Redd Foxx's arch-nemesis, "Aunt Esther." In real life, Page and Foxx were longtime friends and professional admirers; it was Foxx, now one of the hottest performers on TV, who recommended Page to the "Sanford" producers, and when they tried to have her fired he threatened to walk. "You never heard of the lady," he was quoted as replying in the 2005 book "Revolution Televised." "But the night that first show of LaWanda's goes on the air, there'll be dancing in the streets in every ghetto in the United States."

Sure enough, Page's ice-cold stare and "Watch it, sucker!" catchphrase made her a fan favorite — and a tough-talking equal to Foxx, who relished spitting out lines like: "Let me tell you something Esther. Every time I see you, it make me wish birth control was retroactive."

Page joined "Sanford" as the cranky, disapproving sister of Fred's beloved, deceased wife in the second season, and remained for the remainder of its six-season run — even getting the character spun off twice for 1977's "Sanford Arms" and 1981's "Sanford." "Friday" wound up being one of Page's final roles before her death in 2002. She passed away at the age of 81 as a result of complications of diabetes.

John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon played the acerbic, over-the-top father of Ice Cube's main character in "Friday." Witherspoon went on to reprise his role in all three "Friday" films.

Beloved for his comedic performances, Witherspoon got his start on television on "The Richard Pryor Show" before going on to appear in many other television shows and movies such as "Vampire in Brooklyn," "The Boondocks," "The Wayans Bros." series, and "The Tracy Morgan Show." Before breaking into film and television, Witherspoon started out his career as a stand-up comedian. Between productions, Witherspoon returned to stand-up comedy throughout his life.

In October of 2019, John Witherspoon passed away as a result of a heart attack. Witherspoon suffered from coronary heart disease and hypertension at the time of his death. After Witherspoon's passing, Ice Cube took to Twitter to write about his "Friday" co-star: "I'm devastated over the passing of John Witherspoon. Life won't be as funny without him."

Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson, also known as A.J. Johnson, had a fun supporting role in "Friday" as Ezal, the neighborhood's compulsive thief. As he ran from the police with stolen goods, he was one of the first characters to appear on screen, even before leads Ice Cube and Chris Tucker make their first appearance. Before "Friday," Johnson had already begun building an impressive resume, appearing in the likes of "House Party" and "Menace II Society." In addition to acting, Johnson led a successful career as a stand-up comedian.

In September of 2021, Anthony Johnson was found dead in a store in Los Angeles. An official cause of death has not been confirmed at this time. 

It seems that if "Last Friday" had been made, Johnson's character Ezal may have returned. On the subject of his passing, Ice Cube wrote: "Sad to wake up to the news about AJ Johnson passing away. Naturally funny dude who was straight outta Compton at the same time. Sorry I couldn't bring your character Ezal back to the big screen in Last Friday..."

Reynaldo Rey

Filling the role of Red's father was veteran stand-up comedian Reynaldo Rey. Outside of "Friday," Rey was best known for playing Tad in "White Men Can't Jump." After spending several years teaching at the Karamu House Theater in Cleveland, Ohio, Rey launched a successful stand-up comedy career that saw him perform as the opening act for the likes of Redd Foxx and the band "The O'Jays."

Rey crossed paths with some of his "Friday" co-stars while working on other projects. He later appeared on an episode of "The Bernie Mac Show" and worked alongside LaWanda Page in advance of shooting "Friday" when they both appeared on "Sanford," the spinoff of "Sanford and Son." Reynaldo Rey passed away at the age of 75. In 2014, Rey suffered a stroke that continued to affect him into the next year. In May of 2015, complications resulting from his stroke the previous year led to his death.

Yvette Wilson

Yvette Wilson had a memorable scene toward the end of "Friday" as Rita, the woman Chris Tucker's Smokey character was set up with who doesn't live up to her "Janet Jackson" description. Like many on the cast, Yvette Wilson was chosen for the part based on her chops as a comedian. Her stand-up comedy career led directly to a film and television career. Outside of "Friday," Wilson was best known for her television roles on the shows "Moesha" and "The Parkers."

Wilson had stepped away from acting for several years before her death. In 2012, Yvette Wilson passed away after a lengthy battle with cervical cancer while also struggling with severe kidney issues. With mounting medical costs, Wilson was in need of financial help to cover the cost of treatments and a much-needed kidney transplant. A fundraising website was launched by Wilson's friend Jeffrey Pittle to help pay her expenses. 54% of the target goal was reached before Wilson's passing.