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John Amos Biography


Home > Actors > A > Amos, John > Biography


Birth Name: John Amos
Born: 12/27/1939
Birth Place: Newark, New Jersey, USA


Born John A. Amos, Jr. on Dec. 27, 1939 in Newark, NJ, Amos' pre-acting life was an athletic one; according to varying sources, he was a Golden Gloves boxing champion, and after graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in sociology, he played semi-professional football in the United States and Canada. He also worked as a social worker in New York and in advertising prior to trying his hand at stand-up comedy in Greenwich Village. A job as a staff writer on Leslie Uggams' variety series (CBS, 1969) brought him to Los Angeles, where he made also his stage debut in a 1971 production of the comedy "Norman, Is That You?" which earned a Drama Critics nomination. Later, he formed his own theater company and took "Norman" on the road.

Amos began popping up in small roles on television and in films in 1970. Among his earliest credits were in Melvin Van Peebles' legendary independent film "Sweet Sweetback's Badassss Song" (1970) and in the cult road movie "Vanishing Point" (1971). He made his television debut in 1970 as Gordy Howard, the amiable weatherman, on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77), before landing a recurring role on Norman Lear's controversial sitcom "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78), starring as Henry Evans, husband to Maude's cleaning lady, Florida Evans (Esther Rolle). The characters were given their own Lear sitcom, "Good Times," in 1974, where Evans was renamed James. The first sitcom to focus solely on an African-American family, "Good Times" was praised in its early seasons for its honest approach to the financial and social challenges facing low-income families in the 1970s. It would go on to be nominated for a Humanitas Award in 1975, and viewers responded by ushering the show to No. 17 in the ratings. Amos, in particular, received considerable praise for his accurate and honest portrayal of Evans, a stern but proud father who struggled mightily with his inability to land regular work.

But by 1976, the show's focus had shifted to its breakout star, comedian Jimmie Walker, with whom Amos had co-starred in the Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedy "Let's Do It Again" (1975). His J.J. had become something of a pop culture icon, thanks to his broad performance and "Dy-No-MITE!" catch phrase. Amos was vocal about his dismay in this sea change, and frequently clashed with the producers and script writers over what he perceived as stereotypical characterizations. By 1976, he had tired of the struggle to inject dignity into the program, and left the show. His departure was explained away as a search for regular work in Alaska and the character's fate was sealed in the opening episodes of the 1976-77 season when Florida received word that he had been killed in a car accident.

Though some viewed Amos' exit as a hasty one, the actor had landed a substantial role in what would be one of the most influential television miniseries of all time: as the adult Kunta Kinte in "Roots" (1977). Amos' natural gravitas resonated in the difficult role, and he received an Emmy nomination in 1977 for his efforts. Unfortunately, he was unable to parlay this success into substantial roles. By 1977, he was back on television in "Future Cop" (ABC, 1977), a sitcom about a police officer who partners with a robot. He worked steadily through the 1980s and early 1990s, mostly in guest shots for episodic series like "The A-Team" (NBC, 1983-87). There were also a few notable movie roles; a doctor in "American Flyers" (1985) with Kevin Costner and a nice comic turn in "Coming to America" (1989), but his most rewarding work during this period came on stage. He earned an NAACP Award for the 1985 play "Split Second" and trod the boards in New York and London in productions of Shakespeare and August Wilson's "Fences, among other shows. In 1990, he launched a one-man show, "Halley's Comet," in which he played an 87-year-old man who recounted his life's experiences. The show toured regularly for the next two decades.

Amos' profile raised in the early 1990s with notable supporting turns in major features like "Lock Up" (1989) and "Die Hard 2" (1990). He also returned to television as a series regular on "704 Hauser" (CBS, 1994), a Norman Lear sitcom which put a black family in the famous residence once occupied by Archie Bunker. Despite its spirited revival of the social and class conflict honed to perfection by "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-79) - the show pitted Democrat Amos against his conservative son - the series was not a success. But Amos soon found consistent work in recurring roles for other series, including "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC, 1990-96) and "In the House" (NBC, 1995-99), which netted him an Image Award nomination in 1996. In 1999, he played Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on "The West Wing" until 2004, when his character was killed by a roadside bomb on the West Bank of Gaza in Israel.

In 2000, Amos had a recurring role as the Mayor on the Craig T. Nelson drama, "The District" (CBS, 2000-04). He also logged time as a series regular on the short-lived "All About the Andersons" (The WB, 2003-04) as the stern father of comic Anthony Anderson, who has returned to live with his parents while raising his own son. Amos continued to pop up in independent features during this period; most notably 2003's "The Watermelon Heist," an independent feature directed by his son, K.C. Amos, and produced by his daughter, Shannon. In 2006, Amos joined the cast of "Men in Trees," a quirky romantic comedy which cast him as an Alaska bush pilot with a secret. He also turned up on the USA Network comedy "Psych" (2006- ) as the uncle of Dule Hill. Meanwhile, his previous work reaped awards from TV Land, which honored him for his participation in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Roots" and "Good Times" in 2006 and 2007. Meanwhile, Amos logged episodes of "My Name Is Earl" (NBC, 2005-09) and "Royal Pains" (USA Network, 2009- ), while also recurring on "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003- ) during season seven as Chelsea's father. After appearing as himself in a 2010 episode of "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006- ), Amos was a guest star on "Lie to Me" (Fox, 2009-2011) before returning to film with a small supporting role in "Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection" (2012).