John Allen Amos Jr. (born December 27, 1939) is an American actor known for his role as James Evans, Sr., on the CBS television series Good Times and for his portrayal of the adult Kunta Kinte/Toby in the 1977 miniseries Roots, for which he received an Emmy nomination. Amos’s other television work includes The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a recurring role as Admiral Percy Fitzwallace on The West Wing, and the role of Washington, D.C. Mayor Ethan Baker in the series The District. Amos has appeared on Broadway and in numerous films in his five-decade career. He has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and an NAACP Image Award. On film, he has played numerous supporting roles in movies such as The Beastmaster (1982), Coming to America (1988), Die Hard 2 (1990) and Coming 2 America (2021).
John A. Amos, Jr., was born on December 27, 1939, in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Annabelle and John A. Amos, Sr., an auto mechanic. He grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, and graduated from East Orange High School in 1958. He enrolled at Long Beach City College and graduated from Colorado State University, qualifying as a social worker with a degree in sociology. Amos also played on the Colorado State Rams football team. After college, he was a Golden Gloves boxing champion.
In 1964, Amos signed a free agent contract with the American Football League’s Denver Broncos. Unable to run the 40-yard dash because of a pulled hamstring, he was released on the second day of training camp. He then played with the Canton Bulldogs and Joliet Explorers of the United Football League. In 1965, he played with the Norfolk Neptunes and Wheeling Ironmen of the Continental Football League. In 1966, he played with the Jersey City Jets and Waterbury Orbits of the Atlantic Coast Football League.
In 1967, Amos signed a free agent contract with the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Hank Stram told him, “You’re not a football player, you’re a man who is trying to play football.” He returned to the Continental League, where he played that year with the Victoria Steelers.
Amos became well known in his first major TV role, playing Gordy Howard, the weatherman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, from 1970 until 1973. In 1971, he appeared with Anson Williams in a commercial for McDonald’s. But he is best known for his portrayal of James Evans, Sr., the husband of Florida Evans, first appearing three times on the sitcom Maude before continuing the role in 61 episodes of Good Times from 1974 to 1976.
Good Times (1974–1976)
Although cast as a hard-working middle-aged father of three, Amos was 34 when the show began production in 1973, only eight years older than the actor who played his oldest son (Jimmie Walker) and 19 years younger than his screen wife (Esther Rolle). Much like Rolle, Amos wanted to portray a positive image of an African-American family, struggling against the odds in a poor neighborhood, but saw the premise slighted by lower comedy, and he expressed dissatisfaction.
During his tenure on Good Times, Amos openly clashed with the writers of the show, due to the scripts’ lack of authenticity in portraying the African-American experience. This led to his dismissal in 1976. In a 2017 interview, Amos said he had told the writers, who, according to Amos, did not understand African-Americans, “That just doesn’t happen in the community. We don’t think that way. We don’t act that way. We don’t let our children do that.’ ”
Roots, television roles, stage work
In 1977, Amos appeared in the central role of the adult Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking television miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley’s book of the same name. Amos was nominated for an Emmy for his performance. In 1980, he starred in the TV film Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story. Amos played an Archie Bunker-style character in the 1994 sitcom 704 Hauser, a modern spin-off of All In The Family, but it was canceled after only five episodes (in the series he played a different character than he did in the All in the Family spin-off Maude). He also portrayed Captain Dolan on the TV show Hunter from 1984 to 1985. He co-starred in the CBS police drama The District. Amos was a frequent guest on The West Wing, portraying Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, who serves as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for most of the show. He played Buzz Washington in the ABC series Men in Trees. Amos co-starred with Anthony Anderson in the short-lived TV series All About the Andersons in 2003. In 2010, Amos also appeared as recurring character Ed on Two and a Half Men, and in 2016 as another recurring character, also (coincidentally) named Ed, on the Netflix sitcom The Ranch. He has guest-starred in a number of other television shows, including Police Story, The A-Team, The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, In the House, Martin as Sgt. Hamilton Strawn (Tommy’s father), Touched by an Angel, Psych, Sanford And Son, My Name Is Earl, Lie to Me, and Murder, She Wrote. He has also appeared as a spokesman for the Cochran Firm (a national personal injury law firm). Amos wrote and produced Halley’s Comet, a critically acclaimed one-man play that he has performed around the world. Amos performed in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean on Broadway and later at the McCarther Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.
Film roles, music
Amos was featured in Disney’s The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973) with Tim Conway and Jan-Michael Vincent, and also starred as Kansas City Mack in Let’s Do It Again (1975) with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. His other film appearances include Vanishing Point (1971), The President’s Plane Is Missing (1973), Touched by Love (1980), The Beastmaster (1982), Dance of the Dwarfs (1983), American Flyers (1985), Coming to America (1988), Lock Up (1989), Two Evil Eyes (1989), Die Hard 2 (1990), and Ricochet (1991). He appeared in the 1995 film For Better or Worse and played a police officer in The Players Club (1998). He played Uncle Virgil in My Baby’s Daddy (2004), and starred as Jud in Dr. Dolittle 3 (2006). In 2012, Amos had a role in the movie Madea’s Witness Protection, as Jake’s father. He also appeared in Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s 1994 video for “Natural Born Killaz”.
In 2009, he released We Were Hippies, an album of original country songs by Gene and Eric Cash.
In 2021, Amos starred in Because of Charley, as the patriarch of an estranged step-family riding out the hurricane that tore through Florida in 2004.
In addition to his Emmy nomination for Roots, Amos has also been nominated for a CableACE award, an NAACP Image Award, and a DVD Exclusive Award. Amos has won three TV Land Awards, taking home trophies for his roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Good Times and the TV miniseries Roots.
In 2020, Amos was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Amos is a veteran of the 50th Armored Division of the New Jersey National Guard and Honorary Master Chief of the United States Coast Guard.
Amos has been married twice. His first marriage, from 1965 to 1975, was to artist and equestrian Noel Mickelson, with whom he has two children: Shannon Amos, a writer/producer and founder of Afterglow Multimedia, LLC, and Grammy-nominated director K.C. Amos. His second marriage was to actress Lillian Lehman.
Amos lived for many years in Tewksbury Township, New Jersey. As of 2020[update], he resides in Westcliffe, Colorado.
|1971||Vanishing Point||Super Soul’s Engineer||Uncredited|
|Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song||Biker||Credited as Johnny Amos|
|1973||The World’s Greatest Athlete||Coach Sam Archer|
|1975||Let’s Do It Again||Kansas City Mack|
|1980||Touched by Love||Tony|
|1983||Dance of the Dwarfs||Esteban|
|1985||American Flyers||Dr. Conrad|
|1988||Coming to America||Cleo McDowell|
|1989||Lock Up||Captain Meissner|
|1990||Two Evil Eyes||Det. Legrand||Segment: “The Black Cat”|
|Die Hard 2||Major Grant|
|Without a Pass||Blue Berry|
|Night Trap||Capt. Hodges|
|1995||For Better or Worse||Gray|
|1998||The Players Club||Officer Freeman|
|2001||All Over Again||Coach Zeller|
|2003||The Watermelon Heist||Old Man Amos|
|2004||My Baby’s Daddy||Uncle Virgil|
|2006||Dr. Dolittle 3||Jud Jones|
|2010||Lean Like a Cholo||Slick|
|2011||Stills of the Movement: The Civil Rights Photojournalism of Flip Schulke||(Narrator)|
|2012||Zombie Hamlet||Edgar Mortimer|
|Madea’s Witness Protection||Pastor Nelson|
|2014||Act of Faith||Brady|
|2015||Bad Asses on the Bayou||Earl|
|Mercy for Angels||God|
|Tamales and Gumbo||The Patron|
|2021||Coming 2 America||Cleo McDowell|
|2021||Because of Charley||Grandpa|
|1970||The Bill Cosby Show||1st Salesman||as Johnny Amos
Episode: “Swann’s Way”
|1970–1977||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Weatherman Gordon “Gordy” Howard||13 episodes|
|1971||The Funny Side||Minority Husband||6 episodes|
|1971–1972||Love, American Style||Bell Captain||2 episodes|
|1972||The New Dick Van Dyke Show||Mark Cooper||Episode: “The Harry Award”|
|1973||Sanford and Son||Luther||Episode: “A Visit from Lena Horne”|
|1973–1974||Maude||Henry Evans||Recurring role, 3 episodes|
|1974||The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson||Himself||1 episode|
|1974–1976||Good Times||James Evans, Sr.||61 episodes|
|1976||Police Story||Sgt. Walt Kyles||1 episode|
|1976–1977||Future Cop||Officer Bill Bundy||7 episodes|
|1977||Roots||Older Kunta Kinte||3 episodes|
|1979||Mr. Dugan||Rep. Dooley||Unaired pilot|
|1980||Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story||Bumpy Johnson||TV miniseries|
|1981||Here’s Boomer||Charlie Foster||Episode: “Boomer Goes for the Gold”|
|1982||Insight||Josh Cameron||Episode: “Hang Tight, Willy Bill”|
|1983||The Love Boat||Duke Taylor||Episode: “The Zinging Valentine/The Very Temporary Secretary/Final Score”|
|1984||The A-Team||Reverend Taylor||Episode: “Pure-Dee Poison”|
|1984||Trapper John, M.D.||Ins. Roland Hackett||Episode: “The Fred Connection”|
|1984||Hardcastle and McCormick||Albie Meadows||Episode: “The Homecoming: Part 2”|
|1984–1985||Hunter||Captain Dolan||13 episodes|
|1986||One Life to Live||Bill Moore||2 episodes|
|1987||Murder, She Wrote||Doc Penrose||Episode: “Death Takes a Dive”|
|1987||Stingray||Roy Jeffries||Episode: “Blood Money”|
|1987||You Are the Jury||Sergeant Harold Borman||Episode: “The State of Oregon vs. Stanley Manning”|
|1988||Beauty and the Beast||Farrell||Episode: “The Alchemist”|
|1988||Bonanza: The Next Generation||Mr. Mack||TV movie|
|1988||The Cosby Show||Dr. Herbert||Episode: “The Physical”|
|1989||Gideon Oliver||Carl Manning||Episode: “Tongs”|
|1994||704 Hauser||Ernie Cumberbatch||6 episodes|
|1994–1995||The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air||Fred Wilkes||3 episodes|
|1995–1997||In the House||Coach Sam Wilson||12 episodes|
|1995||Touched by an Angel||Sheriff James Mackey||Episode: “The Hero”|
|1997||Martin||Sgt. Strawn||Episode: “Daddy Dearest”|
|Walker, Texas Ranger||Pastor Roscoe Jones||Episode: “Sons of Thunder”|
|1998||King of the Hill||Glenn Johnson||Voice
Episode: “Traffic Jam”
|1999–2004||The West Wing||Admiral Percy Fitzwallace||22 episodes|
|2000||Something to Sing About||Rev. Washington||TV movie|
|The Outer Limits||Peter ‘Yas’ Yastrzemski||Episode: “Zig Zag”|
|Disappearing Acts||Mr. Swift||TV movie|
|2000–2001||The District||Mayor Ethan Baker||10 episodes|
|2002||American Masters||Dr. Bledsoe||Episode: “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey”|
|2003–2004||All About the Andersons||Joe Anderson||16 episodes|
|2006||Voodoo Moon||Dutch||TV movie|
|2006–2008||Men in Trees||Buzz Washington||27 episodes|
|2007||Psych||Uncle Burton Guster||Episode: “Meat Is Murder, But Murder Is Also Murder”|
|2008||My Name Is Earl||Joe||Episode: “Stole an RV”|
|2010||Two and a Half Men||Ed||3 episodes|
|Royal Pains||Harrison Phillips||Episode: “Big Whoop”|
|30 Rock||Himself||Episode: “Let’s Stay Together”|
|Lie to Me||Jim Weaver||Episode: “Smoked”|
|2012||NYC 22||Pappy Science||Episode: “Ransom”|
|2016–2017||The Ranch||Ed Bishop||4 episodes|
|2019||Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell||War||Episode: “The Poor Horsemen of the Apocalypse”|
|2019||Live in Front of a Studio Audience||Fred Davis||Episode: Good Times, “The Politicians”|