Sheman Hemsley, the actor who is better known as “George Jefferson” from the hit show, “The Jeffersons,” is dead at 74, TMZ reports.
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Hemsley was reportedly found by his nurse who, at first, thought he was asleep. The acting legend reportedly died of natural causes at his home in El Paso, Texas.
Hemsley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Feb. 1, 1938. His mother was a factory worker. Little is known about Hemsley’s father or any influence, if any, he played in his son’s life. Hemsley dropped out of high school to join the Air Force because of financial issues at home. After completing his service, He returned to Philly where he worked at the post office during the day and attended acting classes at night.
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He later moved to New York City where he continued to work at the post office during the day and honed his acting skills at night. His hard work eventually paid off when he starred as “Gitlow” in the original 1970 Broadway production, “Purley.” His stage career also includes stints with the Negro Ensemble Company and the Urban Arts Company.
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In 1971, Hemsley got a call from Norman Lear asking that he play the role of George Jefferson in his new television sitcom, “All In The Family.” Though Hemsley initially turned down the role, Lear offered to keep it open for him until he was ready. Hemsley join the cast two years later. Though he and his television wife’s charater, “Louise,” played by the late Isabela Sanford, were secondary, the pair eventually got their own spin-off show, “The Jeffersons,” in 1975.
However, the show ended up being far more than a mere “spin-off.”
Besides enjoying 10 years of prime time success (1975-1985), Hemsley’s portrayal of George Jefferson was legendary. His quick wit, humorous references–or insults–about White people and their lavish New York lifestyle helped to establish a positive pop culture view of Black American achievement, albeit in a somewhat silly way.
When the show ended in 1985, Hemsley’s star began to take a slow descent. He starred as “Earnest Frye” in the television sitcom “Amen” between 1986 and 1991. But his other acting roles were mostly as a guest star. His last acting role was in the 2009 teen comedy, “American Pie Presents: The Book Of Love.”
Hemsley left neither a wife nor children. He never married.