LOS ANGELES – Television, film and theater aficionados from across America are joining Los Angeles residents this week in mourning the death and celebrating the life of Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’Net DuBois, who died at her Glendale home Feb. 18. She was 74.
DuBois, who played the sassy neighbor Willona Woods on the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom “Good Times,” is being remembered this week as “one of the most shining and guiding lights” for thousands of black actors and artists to follow in her footsteps.
“Our sister, Ja’Net DuBois, epitomized a true, conscious Pan African artist who mastered the ability to be idealistic and practical at the same time,” said actor Danny Glover and film producer Ayuko Babu, who joined DuBois in founding the Pan African Film and Arts Festival in 1992.
“She was able to use modern technology to spread her voice, her image, her spirit, her songs and our stories around the globe and touch us with humor, dignity and her ancient wisdom.”
“A mighty giant tree has fallen in the forest today,” the statement added. “With her death occurring in the midst of the Pan African Film and Arts Festival, she left us an important message — support cultural institutions like her beloved Pan African Film and Arts Festival, and it will point you toward liberation and freedom. If not — like the bluesman, Taj Mahal sings — you’ll stumble and fall.”
The Pan African Film Festival, the largest black festival in the country and the largest Black History Month cultural event in the nation, showcases films of the African Diaspora.
DuBois, who appeared on ‘Good Times’ from 1974 to 1979, also wrote and sang the iconic “Movin’ On Up” theme song from the classic Norman Lear sitcom, “The Jeffersons.”
Hollywood was swift to react to her death.
In a post on Twitter, Lear called “Movin’ On Up” the “song of her passing. “Ja’net DuBois was all light,” he wrote.
In an interview posted on Twitter, actress Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma on “Good Times,” said, “Rest in Peace, Ja’Net DuBois. We had so many wonderful memories on ‘Good Times.’”
Stanis, who said she received a call from DuBois’s daughter about her death that morning, said one of her favorite memories of the actress was when she was writing “Movin’ on Up.”
Stanis said DuBois said, ‘I’m going to pitch it and see if he likes it.’
“She did. She pitched it and she came back with a big smile on her face and she said, ‘He likes it.’ So that was the birth of ‘Movin’ On Up.’ You were like an aunt to me. I love you and I will really miss you. RIP. You are one of God’s Angels now. Praying for your family.”
On Instagram, Janet Jackson, who played an abused child named Penny, Willona’s adopted daughter on “Good Times,” wrote “I am so very saddened to hear my longtime friend Ja’Net DuBois has passed away. I saw first hand how she broke stereotypes and changed the landscape for black women in entertainment. I’m grateful in recent years I had a chance to see her and create more lasting memories. I pray for comfort for all her family and friends. Thank you Ja’Net, I’ll miss you.”
Comedian DL Hughley wrote on Twitter, “Sadly, we have lost another legend. #RIP to the lovely #JanetDubois. Her smile and laugh were infectious.”
Also on Twitter, talk show host Tamron Hall wrote, “The original fly Auntie. RIP #janetdubois you left us with an iconic character. Style and Grace.
Political strategist Donna Brazile wrote on Twitter, “What a great soul. #JanetDubois taught us that our sassiness was vital to our survival. Bless her spirit.”
Actress Viola Davis wrote, “Oh, man!!! Just saw you! What a pleasure it was to meet you. You shaped so much of the best memories of my childhood! God bless you, Ja’net DuBois! RIP”
On Twitter, Robin Roberts wrote, “So sad to learn about the passing of #JanetDuBois. My family and I loved watching her on #GoodTimes as sassy #Willona. …. She also sang the theme song of #TheJeffersons. We remember her life next @GMA. Movin on up!”
Director and actor Bill Duke wrote “Dancing in heaven to a life well lived. RIP”
Only two months ago, DuBois appeared on “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” a special on which actors recreated episodes of “Good Times” and “All in the Family.”
Popular with both black and white audiences, “Good Times,” created by Eric Monte and Mike Evans, was one of the first sitcoms to feature a predominantly black cast and was highly regarded for featuring television’s first African-American two-parent family sitcom.
It starred DuBois as a recent divorcee’ and the best friend of Florida, played by Esther Rolle. The show also starred John Amos, Jimmie Walker, Bern Nadette Stanis, Ralph Carter, Johnny Brown, Janet Jackson and Ben Powers.
DuBois’s character, Willona, was known for her style, her spunk, her confidence and her uplifting and joyous, “Hi, y’all” greeting she gave every episode as she made her entrance into the Evans’ home without knocking.
DuBois, who grew up in Brooklyn, began her career on Broadway, appearing in “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Nobody Loves An Albatros” and “Golden Boy” with Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr. She appeared in “Hot L Baltimore” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
She then moved to television where she received a Peabody Award for a 1969 CBS children’s movie “J.T.” She also appeared in the daytime serial “Love of Life” in 1951, reportedly making her the first African-American actress to have a regular role in a soap opera.
A multi-talented performer who appeared in film, on stage and television, DuBois starred in “The Wayans Bros.,” “A Different World,” “The Steve Harvey Show” and “Moesha,” among others on television. Her film credits include “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Diary of a Mad Housewife” (1970).
DuBois won two Emmys for her voice-over work as Mrs. Avery, a combative resident of a housing project, on ‘The PJ’s,’ the animated series created by Eddie Murphy and Larry Wilmore.
The actress, singer, songwriter and community activist founded The DuBois Cares Foundation Inc. to create, develop, design, and support after-school programs and efforts that empower youth. A painter who exhibited her work, DuBois released a CD in 2008 called “Hidden Treasures.”
But it was for Willona in ‘Good Times’ that she left her stamp and remained most lovingly known.
DuBois was born in Philadelphia and raised by her mother. She moved to Brooklyn and pursued a Broadway acting career before moving to Los Angeles in the 1960s.
DuBois is survived by a son, Provat Gupta; two daughters, Kesha Gupta-Fields and Rani Gupta; and a sister, Lilian DuBois.