Ja'Net DuBois, beloved by TV fans for her full-throated portrayal of flamboyant, gossipy Willona Woods on TV's "Good Times," was found dead Tuesday at her home in Glendale, California, TMZ reports.
No cause of death was given, but those near her told TMZ she had appeared to be in good health, and said that her passing was totally unexpected. Her age was reported as either 74 or 81, according to conflicting sources, but documents have since emerged showing she was 87.
DuBois' early life is somewhat murky, but she was raised on Long Island and made her Broadway debut in "Golden Boy" starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr., in 1956.
By the late '60s, she had begun appearing on TV and in films, including "Diary of a Mad Housewife" (1970) and a stint on the soap "Love of Life" (1970-1972).
She played the popular character of Willona on 133 episodes of "Good Times" from 1974-1979. Willona's adopted daughter Penny was played by future superstar Janet Jackson.
"Without Ja'Net, I don't think Janet Jackson would ever have gotten on the show," her co-star Jimmie Walker said in a 2018 Television Academy Foundation interview. Walker also recalled DuBois investing energy in planning Willona's wardrobe and wigs to make the most of her time in each episode.
It DuBois' voice that is heard over the opening credits of "The Jeffersons" (1975-1985); DuBois co-wrote and performed the song "Movin' On Up," one of the most memorable themes in TV history.
Later in her career, DuBois voiced Mrs. Avery on "The PJs" (1999-2001) and Mrs. Patterson on "As Told by Ginger" (2000-2004). Her final credit was a part in the film "She's Got a Plan" (2016).
Looking lovely, DuBois appeared on the set of "Live in Front of a Studio Audience" in December, and at the Hollywood Show, an autograph event in Burbank, held January 31-February 2.
She is survived by her three children.
Janet Jackson took to social media on Tuesday to acknowledge DuBois, writing, "I am so very saddened to hear my longtime friend Ja'Net DuBois has passed away. I saw first hand how she broke stereotypes and changed the landscape for Black women in entertainment. I'm grateful in recent years I had a chance to see her and create more lasting memories. I pray for comfort for all her family and friends. Thank you Ja'Net, I'll miss you."
DuBois was warmly remembered by other famous fans on social media, including Holly Robinson Peete, who tweeted, "Devastated to hear of the sudden passing of the iconic Ja'Net Dubois 💔 We all cherished her as the beloved Willona on #GoodTimes. Got to work with her on Hangin With Mr. Cooper. I followed her around like a puppy dog. She shared so much wisdom. I loved and will miss her dearly🌹."
"Night Court's" Marsha Warfield tweeted simply, "Rest in peace."
Leslie Jones tweeted, "Damn Damn Damn!! We lost a real one! I'm remember this scene cause I rem thinking omg please don't let penny fall for it. And that 'trash' line I rem my mom yelling 'I know that's right' Janet Dubois you will be missed!! #Goodtimes."