‘Good Times’ Actress Ja’Net DuBois Dies


Ja’Net DuBois, the actress who played the sassy Willona Woods in the 1970s TV show “Good Times” and sang the theme song to “The Jeffersons,” died on Monday.

Ms. DuBois died in her sleep at her home in Glendale, Calif., surrounded by family, her youngest daughter, Kesha Gupta-Fields, said on Tuesday.

“Good Times” was one of the first black sitcoms that featured a two-parent home. Ms. DuBois played Willona, the single, upstairs neighbor to Florida Evans, the matriarch of the show’s family. Willona was stylish and had a big heart. She did not hesitate to take in Penny, an abused child played by a young Janet Jackson.

While she was taping “Good Times,” Ms. DuBois told Norman Lear, an executive producer on the show, that she wanted to branch out. Mr. Lear suggested she work on the theme song to “The Jeffersons,” Ms. Gupta-Fields said.

After speaking to her mother about her own family’s aspirations to move up in life, she wrote “Movin’ On Up.”

“She wrote that song as a promise to her mother, that when she obtained a certain level of stardom, that her dream was to essentially have her mom live in a deluxe apartment,” Ms. Gupta-Fields said. “That was written and sung as a gift to her mother, Lilian DuBois.”

Ms. DuBois felt that she had lived the song herself, she told Jet Magazine in 1992. “I moved my whole family,” she said.

“I bought her a house, bought her a mink coat,” Ms. DuBois said of her mother. “I did everything, retired her. I did everything I ever promised her.”

“Movin’ On Up” became widely known as a jubilant, aspirational theme song for black Americans.

“It provided a lot of black people with an anthem,” Ms. Gupta-Fields said. “For them it provided a lot of encouragement.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Lear, who also produced “The Jeffersons,” called “Movin’ On Up” the “song of her passing” on Twitter.

“Ja’Net DuBois was all light and will be missed,” he wrote.

Her family said Ms. DuBois was 74 when she died, but public records indicate she was older.

Jeanette DuBois was born in Philadelphia and was raised by her mother, Lilian. The family did not have much but they had a home and food to eat, Ms. Gupta-Fields said.

“That was just the state of the world for African-American families,” she said.

When she got older, Ms. DuBois moved to Brooklyn to act on Broadway.

She was in “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Diary of a Mad Housewife” and other Broadway plays, her daughter said. In the 1960s, after spending time running a youth acting workshop in Amityville, N.Y., Ms. DuBois moved to Los Angeles to film “Good Times.”

Earlier this month, Ms. DuBois spent a “joyous, wonderful family time” with some of the cast of “Good Times,” Ms. Gupta-Fields said.

“She remembered her time on the show very fondly,” she said.

After “Good Times,” Ms. DuBois had roles in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and many sitcoms from the 1990s. Ms. DuBois was a two-time Emmy winner for her role as Mrs. Avery, a combative neighbor in a housing project, on “The PJ’s,” an animated show created by Eddie Murphy and Larry Wilmore.

Two months ago, on “Good Times: Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” during which Hollywood actors redid an episode of “Good Times,” Ms. DuBois told Jimmy Kimmel that she was “happy that Norman saw her in another film she was doing and said, ‘I want you for a TV role.’”

“She gave him a lot of respect for putting her in a position to birth Willona,” Ms. Gupta-Fields said.

Off camera, Ms. DuBois raised a family and worked to break stereotypes in Hollywood.

She is survived by her son, Provat Gupta, her daughters Rani Gupta and Kesha Gupta-Fields, and a sister, Lilian DuBois.

In 1992, Ms. DuBois founded the Pan African Film and Arts Festival with the actors Danny Glover and Ayuko Babu, showcasing works by people of African descent. The festival runs until this Sunday.

Jack Begg contributed research.

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