John Amos: From the Gridiron to Good Times

Quick words of tribute for actor John Amos (b. 1939). Newark native Amos graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in sociology. But he was also a star of Colorado State’s football team, which led to a professional career after college. He played for the Denver Broncos for all of one day in 1964, but then pulled a hamstring, sending him down to the minor leagues for a few years. In the mid ’60s he played for such outfits as Cleveland Bulldogs, Joliet Explorers, Norfolk Neptunes, Wheeling Ironmen, Jersey City Jets, the Waterbury Orbits and the Victoria Steelers. By 1967 he briefly returned to the AFL, playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, before washing out again and returning to the minors.

In 1970 he got his first acting role on The Bill Cosby Show (as you’ll recall, Cosby played a gym coach on his first sitcom). From here he went on to play Gordy the weather man on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973-76), Then what was probably his high water mark in terms of visibility, his role as the dad on Good Times (1974-76). It must have been a strange position for him to be in. Traditionally, in those days, the guy who played the dad was the star of any sitcom. In this case, Esther Rolle was the ostensible star at the outset. Her role of Florida had been created on Maude, and then spun off. But then Amos and Rolle were BOTH eclipsed by the actor who played their son, comedian Jimmy “J.J.” Walker. His low comedy antics were not to the taste of Amos, who after all was a registered social worker. He had some high aims for this show, the first ever to be set in a public housing project. After this, he played Kunta Kinte in Roots, a serious “important” part more to his liking.

Amos’ first two movie were trippy ones, both made in 1971: Vanishing Point and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassssss Song. He also played a coach in Disney’s The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973), and had a part in Let’s Do It Again (1975) with Sidney Poitier and Cosby. Later, he was in Coming to America (1988) with Eddie Murphy. He is also slated to be in the upcoming sequel! Amos has over 100 other credits from his 50 year acting career. Check ’em out here.