Sherman Hemsley, the beloved comic actor who made George Jefferson of The Jeffersons a TV icon and a household name, has reportedly died at age 74, according to sources. He was allegedly discovered by his nurse at his home in El Paso, Texas and the cause of death is believed to be natural causes.
Marla Gibbs, who co-starred with Hemsley on The Jeffersons issued the following statement to theGrio:
“I am shocked, and thought Sherman was doing very well. I am saddened to hear that Sherman has made his transition. We were trying to come up with a new show that we could participate in, but of course, that cannot happen now. Sherman was one of the most generous co-stars I have ever worked with. He happily set me up so that I could slam him, and I did the same for him. I shall miss him deeply.”
Hemsley first played the role of Jefferson on 1970s staple All in the Family. The character became so popular it spawned a spin-off series which ran for an at-the-time unprecedented 11 seasons (1975-1985) and was consistently one of the highest rated sitcoms on television. The show broke barriers by portraying an upper class black family, who in the words of the show’s classic theme song had “moved on up” to a deluxe apartment in an affluent part of New York City. The show remains the longest running series featuring a predominately black cast in television history.
Following his success on The Jeffersons, Hemsley had another TV hit with the 1980s sitcom Amen, on which he played the duplicitous Deacon Frye. He also turned in memorable performances in the Broadway musical Purlie and in guest spots on shows such as Family Matters, Sister Sister, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He also voiced the gruff Triceratops/bossman B.P. Richfield on the puppet-filled sitcom The Dinosaurs from 1991 to 1994.
Sherman Hemsley was born February 1, 1938, in Philadelphia. He served in the air force. And he also worked for the post office to help support his fledgling acting career. He eventually relocated to New York City, where he worked his way up the theater ranks.
It was his breakout role in Purlie which caught the attention of TV super-producer Norman Lear. Lear, who also created popular and provocative sitcoms like Good Times and Maude, cast Hemsley as the drycleaner patriarch of the Jefferson clan, and the rest is TV history. He never married and has no children but he will be remembered fondly by millions of television fans.
Watch the classic opening sequence of The Jeffersons here: