John A. Amos, Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey, USA on December 27th 1939. He graduated from Colorado State University qualifying as a social worker with a degree in sociology. Whilst at Colorado State he also participated in sports playing for the Colorado State Rams football team as well as becoming a Golden Gloves boxing champion.
In 1964, he signed a free agent contract with the American Football League’s Denver Broncos but a pulled hamstring saw him released on the second day of training camp. The following year he played with Joliet Explorers of the United Football League. This was followed by 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, he had signed a free agent contract with the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Hank Stram told John “you’re not a football player, you’re a man who is trying to play football.” John approached Coach Stram with a poem he wrote about the mythical creature that passed the door of all players who are cut from the team. He read it to the team and received a standing ovation from all the players and coaches. Amos said Coach Stram pushed him in the direction of writing after he was released from training camp. He returned to the Continental League where he played that year with the Victoria Steelers.
Following his football career Amos began working as an advertising copywriter, then as a social worker at New York’s Vera Institute of Justice. During that time he began a career as a stand-up comic on the Greenwich Village circuit, before being noticed and recruited as a staff writer on Leslie Uggams’ musical variety show in 1969.
In 1970, Amos secured a role as as Gordy the weatherman on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (a role he would reprise through the years until 1977); then in 1971, Amos made his stage debut in the comedy Norman, Is That You?, where he went onto earn a Los Angeles Drama Critics nomination for Best Actor. This led him to form his own theater company and produce Norman, Is That You? on tour.
In 1972, Amos bagged a recurring role of Henry Evans on Maude which was pseudo spun off into the family sitcom Good Times in which Amos starred as James Evans, Sr. Good Times was a mixed blessing for Amos – initially it was the first network series ever to be created by African-Americans. A fact Amos was proud to be associated with but as the series developed Amos became upset with the lack of quality of the scripts and the direction the show was heading. To Amos the show has lost its focus on the importance of family values and promoting a positive image of an African American family, struggling against the odds in the ghetto of Chicago and instead focus of the comedic adventures of his character’s son J.J. (played by Jimmie Walker). J.J. though was popular with viewers which inturn led to clashed between Amos and the programme executives. By the end of 1976 Amos’ character was killed off (off-camera) in a car accident.
“They killed my character off and, as God would have it, just when they told me I would never work again I got cast in a little program called Roots and, as they would say, the rest is history.”
Amos bounced back quickly (receiving an Emmy nomination in the process) as the grown up version of Kunte Kinte (aka Toby) in 1977’s ground-breaking mini-series Roots.
This led to many film and TV roles in the following: The Beastmaster, Police Story, The A-Team, Trapper John, M.D., Hunter, The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Love Boat, In the House, Martin, Touched by an Angel, Psych, My Name Is Earl, Lie to Me, Murder, She Wrote, Coming To America, Die Hard 2, Lock Up, 704 Hauser, Walker, Texas Ranger, The Rockford Files: Shoot-Out at the Golden Pagoda, The Outer Limits, King of the Hill, The District, The West Wing, Two and a Half Men, and 30 Rock.
Back on the stage Amos received plaudits for his appearance in a heralded production of The Life and Death of a Buffalo Soldier at the Bristol’s Old Vic in England. Capping his theatrical career was the 1990 inaugural of his one-man show Halley’s Comet, an amusing and humanistic American journey into the life of an 87-year-old who recalls, among other things, World War II, the golden age of radio, the early civil rights movement, and the sighting of the Comet when he was 11. He wrote and has frequently directed the show, which continues to play into the 2007-2008 season.
“I love my work and am grateful to God to have a profession that brings joy to so many.”