Johnny Brown, best known for his portrayal of Nathan Bookman, the building superintendent for the Evans family on the popular 1970s sitcom “Good Times,” died on March 2 at the age of 84.
Brown had reportedly just left his doctor’s office in Los Angeles for a pacemaker procedure before becoming ill and being taken to a nearby hospital where he died.
The announcement of his sudden death came via an Instagram post from his daughter, Sharon Brown.
“It’s too terrible. It will never not be. It’s a shock. He was literally snatched out of our lives. It’s not real for us yet,” said Sharon Brown, an actor and composer. “So, there will be more to say but not now. Dad was the absolute best. We love him so very much.”
Born June 11, 1937 in St. Petersburg, Florida, Brown, like most of his Black contemporaries, would prove himself to be far more than just an actor – something essential for African-American actors as they first began to receive opportunities in roles other than as maids or butlers in the 60s and 70s.
He also displayed his prowess as a singer and could easily swing into the role as an accomplished impersonator, mimicking the voices and mannerisms of such luminaries as Louis Armstrong and John Wayne. Fans of “Good Times” will recall him often swaggering like “the Duke” and sounding almost identical to the white actor and Western films’ superstar, John Wayne.
“Good Times” served as a spinoff from “Maude” and centered on the Evans family, led by a strong father figure – a rarity in those days – James Evans (John Amos) and the family matriarch Florida (Esther Rolle) in a Chicago housing project. It also featured Jimmie Walker, who became famous for his trademark “Dynomite!” phrase, a young Janet Jackson, BernNadette Stanis and Ralph Carter.
Brown’s ability to tackle roles of everyday people, along with his humor, charisma and portly appearance, served him well both on stage and on the screen. He started as a promoter before launching his acting career after winning an Apollo Theater amateur night contest and appearing in nightlife shows alongside his fiancée, June, and recording songs for both Columbia and Atlantic Records.
He established himself as one of the few Black actors on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” with nearly 50 appearances on the iconic comedy show from 1970 to 1972.
Consider what Brown would have brought in the role of Lamont Sandford, the son and fellow business owner to Redd Foxx on “Sanford and Son.” While we will never know, it can be confirmed that Brown had emerged as a finalist for the role of Lamont. However, because of his agreement with “Laugh-In,” he could not accept the role which would be eventually be awarded to Demond Wilson.
Brown also appeared on “The Flip Wilson Show,” “The Jeffersons,” “Family Matters,” “Sister, Sister,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” “The Wayans Bros,” “227” and “Martin.”
But in his role as Bookman, often called “Booger” by Willona Woods, the gossiping neighbor of the Evans Family, portrayed by the equally-talented Ja’Net DuBois, Brown took every advantage of his chance to shine. He would showcase his many skills as Norman Lear and his team of producers expanded Brown’s role as other characters, most notably James Evans (John Amos) left the show.
Brown would emerge as much more than a comedic character – more than someone to poke fun at as Willona would routinely do. Slowly but surely and in many ways, he would become an integral part of the Evans Family. “Good Times” debuted in 1974 and continued until 1979. Brown maintained his role for the show’s final four seasons.
And for those like this writer, who faithfully followed the show, both then and today, Brown’s performances became something to which we looked forward.
Stanis, who played Thelma Evans on “Good Times,” said she was “devastated” to hear about Brown’s death.
“I will miss all the stories about Sammy Davis, Jr. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and even John Wayne,” Stanis wrote Saturday on Instagram. “His talent was beyond measure . . . He was such a pleasure to work with. I certainly will miss his happy spirit and big smile. Praying for his family in every way. RIP my wonderful friend I will truly miss you.”
“That’s the Way Love Goes” singer Jackson, who played abused child Penny Gordon Woods in Season 5, also shared in her condolences via Twitter.
“Such loving memories of our time together. You were full of laughter and forever smiling. Always so sweet and so kind to me. I love you and will miss you,” she wrote.
Brown is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jane Russell, his children Sharon and John Jr., a brother and two grandchildren.
@mcneirdk

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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