King, Mabel

December 25, 1932–November 9, 1999

Her stellar performance earned King a Tony nomination in 1975 for best actress.

Actress, singer, television personality. King was born in Charleston on December 25, 1932. She had a starring role in Melvin Van Peeble’s Broadway hit musical Don’t Play Us Cheap, in which two imps are sent by the Devil to break up a party in Harlem. She was a talented entertainer whose most memorable role was as the oversized, all-powerful “Mama” in the 1976–1979 ABC sitcom What’s Happening!! The main comedic events of the show centered on her role as the loving mother to a teenage son, Roger (Ernest Thomas); his friends Rerun (Fred Berry) and Dwayne (Haywood Nelson); and a precocious daughter, Dee (Danielle Spencer). The series, loosely based on the motion picture Cooley High, was one of several all-black-cast programs that succeeded during the 1970s.

King played the part of Evilene, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the Broadway production of The Wiz. Her stellar performance earned King a Tony nomination in 1975 for best actress. She reprised her role in a 1978 film version of the musical and subsequently had roles in the films The Jerk (1979), Scrooged (1988), Dead Men Don’t Die (1990), and Tales from the Darkside 6 (1992).

King’s career stalled as her health failed. She ultimately lost both her legs to diabetes, a stroke damaged her left hand, and a fall from a wheelchair knocked out her upper teeth. She lived at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, for nine years before leaving the facility in August 1999. When asked about the trials and tribulations she had endured, she was quoted in the Los Angeles Times in 1995 as saying, “Sure enough, I’ve been through a lot, but so what? I thank God for my life.” She died in Woodland Hills on November 9, 1999.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title King, Mabel
  • Coverage December 25, 1932–November 9, 1999
  • Author
  • Keywords Actress, singer, television personality, Don’t Play Us Cheap, ABC sitcom What’s Happening!!, The Wiz,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 23, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 24, 2017
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