Sherman Hemsley with "Jeffersons" co-star Isabel Sanford in 1997 (Photo : Reuters)
Sherman Hemsley's body remains embalmed and refrigerated in an El Paso, Texas funeral home amidst a dispute over his will.
The actor, famous for portraying George Jefferson on "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons", died last month from lung cancer at age 74.
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The AP reports that, six weeks before he died, Hemsley - who had never married and had no children - drew up a will naming "beloved partner" Flora Enchinton as his beneficiary. Enchinton told the AP that she had been Hemsley's friend and manager since he and Kenny Johnston, now 76, had moved to El Paso twenty years before. The three lived together; and during that time Hemsley never mentioned any relatives, Enchinton said.
Enter Richard Thornton, of Hemsley's native Philadelphia, who claims to be the late actor's brother and is contesting the will with the help of an El Paso lawyer, Mark Davis.
According to the AP, court documents estimate the size of Hemsley's estate to be more than $50,000.
"Some people come out of the woodwork - they think Sherman, they think money," Enchinton told the AP. "But the fact is that I did not know Sherman when he was in the limelight. I met them when they [Hemsley and Johnston] came running from Los Angeles with not one penny, when there was nothing but struggle."
It is not clear why Hemsley - who starred on "The Jeffersons" from 1975 to 1985 and on the sitcom "Amen" from 1986 to 1991, and who continued to appear steadily on TV in the years afterwards - was ever in financial distress. The nature of the relationship between Enchinton, Hemsley, and Johnston is also unclear from media reports. Johnston has apparently not been quoted in any news sources.
Enchinton has also spoken to KVIA-TV.
"It is disgraceful," she told the station. "It is sad. This was a man with dignity."
"The emotional thing is you wake up thinking he's still frozen out there," she added.
CNN, a KVIA-TV affiliate, reports that the body is stored at San Jose Funeral Home in El Paso, and that it will remain there pending a court order to determine to whom it should be released.
"I have never heard of a so-called brother named of Richard Thornton in the 20 years I have known Sherman," Enchinton said. "This is not what Sherman would have wanted."
"Sherman left very worried about me, about me staying alone, what was going to happen to me, being alone if he was gone," she said. "That's what worried him the most. I guess maybe he sensed what was going to happen. It just gives me these emotions and feelings [that] all of a sudden there's these people that have never known anything about our life, about who we are, about what we're all about, about what we endured."