Philly's own Sherman Hemsley dies
EL PASO, TX – Sherman Hemsley, who famously played George Jefferson in the hit TV show The Jeffersons, has died. He was 74 years old.
El Paso police confirmed that Hemsley died in his home there. Hemsley had no wife and no children.
A cause of death has not been confirmed for the actor, who helped make The Jeffersons a hit, playing the brash and cocky lead character.
Jefferson and his wife, whom he affectionately called "Weezy," were the center of a hard-scrabble-turned-success story that won the affection of viewers.
The show was a spinoff of All in the Family, which Hemsley also appeared on. Hemsley went on to star in the TV shows Amen as Deacon Ernest Frye and 227 as Thurmond Fox and made guest and starring appearances on several other popular TV shows and movies.
But it was The Jeffersons that fans most readily identify with, even more than 25 years after the end of the show's run.
Hemsley's character was a household name during the 1970s and 1980s, a character so iconic that people often can remember it before they remember Hemsley's real name.
"I grew up watching the Jeffersons as many of us did, [and] he along [with] that cast will be one to be remembered," tweeted former NFL star Terrell Owens.
Larenz Tate, who worked with Hemsley on the set of Amen, also offered his condolences via Twitter.
"I had the honor of working [with] the great comedic actor as a kid on his show Amen in 1988," Tate wrote.
Hemsley was also a professional singer and released a record titled Ain't That a Kick in the Head in 1989, followed by an R&B album called Dance.
Hemsley was born Feb. 1, 1938, in Philadelphia and turned to acting while a young student in school.
He made his professional acting debut in the Broadway play Purlie. After touring with the play for one year, Norman Lear invited Hemsley in 1971 to audition for a role in a new sit-com, All in the Family.
Sherman Hemsley is best remembered for playing George Jefferson, the lovably pompous, little loud-mouth who made a fortune from his dry cleaning business and moved from Queens to a posh Manhattan high rise in The Jeffersons, a popular sitcom that ran ten years on the CBS network. Before becoming an actor in the late '60s, Hemsley worked for the U.S. Post Office. He started out on the New York stage where his first break came from playing Gitlow in the Broadway musical Purlie (1970). Television producer Norman Lear was impressed by Hemsley's performance and so created George Jefferson for him. Originally designed as an African-American alter ego/foil to his blustery, bigoted Archie Bunker character on the smash hit All in the Family, Hemsley's George became so popular that he and his family were given their own series in 1975.
Following the series' demise, Hemsley played an egotistical, loud-mouthed deacon/lawyer at the First Community Church of Philadelphia who tried to keep the new minister, Reverend Gregory, from taking over what he viewed as his personal domain, on Amen. The series broke ground by being the first hit sitcom centered on religion and ran from 1986 to 1991. In between his series work, Hemsley occasionally played supporting roles in feature films after making his debut playing Rev. Mike in the comedy Love at First Bite (1979). Most of his subsequent films have been low-budget affairs such as Stewardess School and Club Fed. While Hemsley continues to appear frequently on television as a guest star and has even starred in such failed series as Townsend Television (1993) and Goode Behavior (1996-1997), he had yet to recapture the success he had during the '70s and '80s.
"Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."