Ja’net DuBois, a popular entertainer and fixture in the ’70s as more African-American actors received and took full advantage of growing opportunities to appear on or star in family-based television programs, has died at 74 in her Glendale, Calif., home. Family members say she died in her sleep of natural causes.
The actress starred on the CBS sitcom “Good Times” for five years from 1974 to 1979 as Willona Woods, the gossipy divorcee and next-door neighbor of the Evans family – often reminding Blacks of someone they knew quite well which perhaps, besides her irrefutable talent, contributed to her success. She also co-wrote and sang “The Jeffersons” theme song, “Movin’ on Up” – a catchy tune that many Black youth and adults could rattle off with ease during the show’s heyday.
On “Good Times,” DuBois’ Willona served as the single, sexy neighbor and best friend to star Esther Rolle’s Florida Evans. Though the comedy had plenty of one-liners, many delivered by star Jimmie Walker in the role of J.J., DuBois’ appearances provided a well-received extra dose of comedic relief. Still, she revealed her dramatic skills when a young Janet Jackson joined the show as the abused child Penny. The storyline, which included the adoption of Penny by Willona, secured a long and close relationship between the two as seen when Jackson, a future multiplatinum superstar, cast DuBois as her mother in her 1986 “Control” video.
DuBois went on to appear in a number of film and TV projects, including voicing one of the main characters on the animated series “The PJs” for which she earned two Emmys for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 1999 and 2001. She also earned an NAACP Image Award nomination in 1998 for a guest appearance on “Touched by an Angel.”
Other credits included: “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Moesha,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Facts of Life,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” “A Different World” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
DuBois’ career began in theater where she appeared in Broadway productions of “Golden Boy” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” After seeing her performance in “The Hotel Baltimore” in Los Angeles, Norman Lear, who developed “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons,” brought her on board, establishing her career.