John Amos is the type of “man’s man” kind of actor. Always playing a strong male lead, Amos got his start in acting after becoming a veteran of the 50th Armored Division of the New Jersey National Guard and Honorary Master Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard. Amos is best known for playing characters James Evans, Sr., the husband of Florida Evans, appearing three times on the sitcom Maude before continuing the role in 61 episodes of Good Times from 1974 to 1976. Amos, much like series’ co-star Rolle, wanted to portray a positive image of an African American family, struggling against the odds in the ghetto of Chicago.
But it was Amos’ breakout role on the iconic made-for-television mini-series “Roots” that garnered him critical acclaim. Playing the role of Kunta Kente/Toby grown up, Roots received 37 Emmy Award nominations and won nine. Amos himself was nominated for an Emmy. Roots went on to win a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third highest rated episode for any type of television series, and the second most watched overall series finale in U.S. television history.
It was during the filming of Roots that Amos said he his ancestors spoke to him.
“They gave me a shirt and the costume for the character and I went off to the side while they were shooting another scene. And it was then that whatever it was that happened, where I felt I had become totally taken by the spirit of my ancestors. I knew what it was intuitively; it all of my ancestors who had never been talked about or never been spoken of properly in the history books, and all the millions who have died on the way over in the great slave trade–they were speaking to me. It was not my imagination, I became overwhelmed, and I became agitated. I began screaming and yelling, laying on the floor. They tell me I was speaking in tongues.”
“I was yelling and screaming and a childhood friend Randy was there thought I was having an epileptic seizure. The ancestors said to me, ‘You stay resolute, you stay strong, you will not break, because we did not break. You stay strong Kenta Kunte. We are with you.”
Amos’ role on “Good Times” was actually cut short.
He was fired from the show after the third season ended because he had issues with the show’s producer, Norman Lear, and the writers of the show in regards to Jimmie Walker’s character JJ. His character James Evans died in a car accident in the first episode of the fourth season, and the series continued for three more seasons without him. Norman Lear said Amos had become a disruption and Amos agrees, saying he wasn’t very diplomatic about the direction of the show. Amos disagreed about the writers emphasizing J.J.’s stereotypical buffoonishness including his catchphrases, funny walk and “pigeon hats”, fearing it was turning the program into a weekly minstrel show. His character’s other son Michael wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice and his daughter Thelma wanted to be a surgeon. Amos could see the comedy that could be generated from that but the writers wanted to stay with the J.J. actions.
Despite that time in his career, Amos has gone on to star in countless TV shows and blockbuster movies including “Coming To America” with Eddie Murphy and “Die Hard 2” with Bruce Willis.