Actor Sherman Hemsley, 74, passed away on Tuesday in El Paso, Texas, according to police. He was found in a home where he had lived for years. Police also said that no foul play is suspected in his death and the cause of death is still being investigated. Hemsley became popular as the character George Jefferson on the show ‘All in the Family’ and then on ‘The Jeffersons.’ ‘The Jeffersons’ ran for 11 seasons from 1975 to 1985 and became one of the most successful sitcoms on television.
Norman Lear, the producer of ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘All in the Family,’ said “He was a love of a guy and immensely talented. When the Jeffersons moved in next door to the Bunkers, I wanted to deliver the George Jefferson who could stand up to Archie Bunker. It took some weeks before I remembered having seen Sherman in ‘Purlie’ on Broadway.”
Lear said that when Hemsley read for the part “the minute he opened his mouth he was George Jefferson.”
Hemsley worked for eight years as a Postal Service clerk and also served in the Air Force. He studied acting at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts and started his career in New York’s theater companies. Hemsley debuted on broadway in the 1970s musical called ‘Purlie.’ Hemsley joined the cast of ‘All in the Family’ in 1973 and then just two years later ‘The Jeffersons’ was created as a spinoff.
“All of it was really hard for because – rude, I don’t like to be that way,” Hemsley said during an interview in 2003 for the Archive of American Television. “But it was the character, I had to do it. I had to be true to the character. If I was to pull back something, then it just wouldn’t work.”
Hemsley’s lifelong friend, Jackee Harry, said that Hemsley did not even realize his own popularity. One day during the era of ‘The Jeffersons,’ the two were walking on a sidewalk in Manhattan when fans went nuts.
“He got mauled and mugged,” she said. “He said, ‘What’s all the screaming about?’ He was so popular and he didn’t even know it.”
“He was a very private person unlike George Jefferson. But he was very kind and very sweet, and generous to a fault,” Harry said.
Hemsley reprised his role of George Jefferson on the sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and then again in 2011 on ‘House of Payne.’ He also made guest appearances on the sitcoms ‘The Hughleys’ and ‘Family Matters.’