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‘Mama I Can’t Breathe’: ‘What’s Happening!!’ Star Ernest Lee Thomas Proves Age Is Just a Number After Celebrating His 74th Birthday with Timeless Photos

“What’s Happening!!” actor Ernest Lee Thomas recently celebrated his birthday on March 26 and thanked the “Lord Jesus” for a great day as he turned 74 years old. 

Ernest Lee Thomas celebrates his 74th birthday. (@soultv/Facebook)

@SoulTV on Facebook shouted out the acting veteran and shared three photos of Thomas that showed him as a teenager, a young adult, and as what he currently looks like. 

The post received notice from fans who mentioned how much of an impact the NAACP Image Award nominee had on the culture

“Happy Birthday!! Thank you for the laughs throughout my youth and even now I enjoy rewatching”

A few fans even brought up Thomas’ character as Roger Thomas on the beloved ‘70s sitcom.

“Happy birthday Ernest you look good for 74,” the user wrote, “as a kid Raja used to always cracked me up or made me smile when he tried to dance (he was no ReRun) but it left me feeling great in side and I had a lil crush on his lil sister Dee. Happy Birthday again Ernest.” 

“‘Mama I can’t breathe’ Happy Birthday Rog!!! You guys were thee best on tv when we were kids…. Ooooohhhhh I’m telling Mama!! DEE”

“What’s Happening!!” followed Thomas’ character along with his friends, Frederick “ReRun” Stubbs portrayed by the late Fred Berry and Dwayne Clemens Nelson, portrayed by Haywood Nelson. 

The ABC original followed the three teenage boys as they went through life, love and mishaps, while also unsuccessfully managing to steer clear of Raj’s little sister, Dee, portrayed by Danielle Spencer. 

Though the series appeared to be popular, it only lasted three seasons, and the cancellation caused Thomas to fall into a deep depression.

In a 2021 interview with DJ Vlad of VladTV, the Indiana native revealed leaning heavily into drugs once the show ended due to losing his identity after no longer playing his character.

“Major depression, more drugs … coke. I’d been introduced to coke at that time,” he shared. 

Thomas managed to overcome his addiction while he lived with his sister after becoming homeless. 

In the mid-to-late ‘80s a spin-off titled “What’s Happening Now!!” came onto the scene and served as a follow-up to the original sitcom. The three-season series showed what the trio of men was doing now.

Since his sitcom success, Thomas has been known for his recurring role as funeral director Mr. Omar in “Everybody Hates Chris” as well as his role as Mr. Williams in the “Chocolate City” film trilogy.

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