Sherman Hemsley and his Jeffersons co-star Isabel Sanford in 1997 (Photo : Reuters)
Sherman Hemsley, the actor most recognizable as George Jefferson in the long-running sitcom "The Jeffersons", has died. He was 74.
Hemsley specialized in brash, flawed, basically decent characters - first as George Jefferson on "All in the Family" and its above-named spinoff, and then as Deacon Ernest Frye on "Amen".
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Hemsley dropped out of high school to serve in the air force, returning to his native Philadelphia to work for the post office. He began his acting career in African-American theater companies before getting his start on Broadway.
He came to the attention of "All in the Family" creator Norman Lear, who decided he would be perfect for the part of George Jefferson. When Lear failed to entice Hemsley away from his theater work, he told him he would hold the part for him, which he did for two years.
Audiences loved watching Hemsley's Jefferson, who held his own against Carroll O'Connor's bigoted Archie Bunker, and two years later "The Jeffersons" was born.
Hemsley and Isabel Sanford played George and Louise Jefferson, who have left Queens for the Upper East Side of Manhattan after their dry-cleaning business has taken off. Mike Evans played their son and Marla Gibbs their maid. Much of the show's comedy was driven by the interaction of the loudmouthed George with his more intelligent family members and their equally loudmouthed maid.
The show ran from 1975 to 1985.
From 1986 to 1991, he starred in "Amen", again playing a character whose cantankerous, less-than-holy personality largely drove the show.
From then on, he appeared largely in episodic television and TV commercials, appearing on such shows as "Martin", "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air", and "Sister, Sister".
His voiced appeared as the main character's ferocious boss in almost 30 episodes of "Dinosaurs" in the early 1990s; and he played his last regular starring role as an ex-convict living with his straight-laced son on the sitcom "Goode Behavior", which ran from 1996-97.
Just last year, he brought his one-man show home to Philadelphia. The show was largely a reminiscence of his life and career.
He never married or had children.
Hemsley died in El Paso, Texas, where sources say he managed a production company. Death is said to be from natural causes that have yet to be named.