There weren’t many TV stars more popular than Jimmie Walker in the 1970s. Portraying J.J. Evans on the groundbreaking CBS comedy Good Times, his catchphrase “Dyn-o-mite!” became one of the most iconic in television history—named the second greatest of all time by TV Guide in 2009. The South Bronx, N.Y., native has also been working nonstop as a standup comic for more than 40 years—Time named him “Comedian of the Decade” in 1979—working alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, and was even name-dropped in the Beastie Boys’ “Pass the Mic.” Yet for the past 15 years, Walker has faced repeated rejection in his attempts to get his autobiography published. “I’ve been turned down probably 100 times, at least,” he says. “I’ve had like eight books, and they’ve all been turned down.”
Walker’s long wait comes to an end June 26 with the publication of Dynomite! Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times (Da Capo Press, $25) co-written with journalist Sal Manna. But during an hourlong interview at Gold’s Gym in Summerlin, in between stints on the treadmill, the 64-year-old longtime Las Vegan expresses displeasure at having to alter the book from a straight autobiography to a memoir centering on his life as a comic in order to get it published. “I don’t plan on selling any fucking books,” he says. “If I get rid of 1,000 books, I’m happy.”
Walker began working Las Vegas stages in 1973 and moved here about three years later, at the height of his fame. He was a fixture at the Tropicana and Riviera for more than a decade, and still spends about 40 weeks a year on the road doing standup. Yet he says it’s as hard to get work now as it ever was.
“This is a tough business to get respect in,” Walker says. “If you expect to be respected in this business, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. No matter who you are, someone will say, ‘He sucks!’ … I bet that someone in the past 15 minutes has said, ‘Fuck Jimmie Walker! I wouldn’t bring him in my club. Are you kidding? Is he still doing that ‘Dyn-o-mite’ thing? That wasn’t funny when it was funny.’”
Good Times was the first TV show to focus on a low-income, inner-city black family and address serious social issues, but Walker’s co-stars John Amos and Esther Rolle eventually left over their displeasure with the growing focus on J.J.’s foolishness and the overall direction of the show. Walker, however, says he doesn’t really address the dissension in his book because there was never a dialogue with either cast member about it.
“I think we worked together really well, but I never spoke to them,” he says. “I had nothing to do with them, so I really had no stories or anything about them. The show itself, I didn’t have anything to say about it because I just went in, did my job and left. … We never, ever spoke, and people find that hard to believe.”
Walker, who has never been married, does tell in the book why numerous websites list actress Jere Fields as his wife of more than 30 years (hint: Tattletales), but he doesn’t address his personal relationship with conservative pundit Ann Coulter. “She’s one of the best women I’ve ever met,” he says. “I’ll let it ride at that.”
Walker’s first book isn’t even out yet, but he’s already looking toward the next, a true autobiography that he says he will self-publish if he has to. “It’s one of the arrows in my quiver that I’m shooting,” he says, “although I don’t have that many arrows.”