Sherman Hemsley – in spite of the many roles he played – will always be best remembered for his role as George Jefferson. (It’s a little known fact that Sherman begun his TV career as George Jefferson in 1970 on “All in the Family” and his final role on TV in 2011 on “House of Payne” was also as George Jefferson…)
Sharp, temperamental, with a volcanic temper and a sense of humor to boot, Sherman Hemsley’s interpretation of George Jefferson made it possible for him to present even difficult topics in a lighthearted way. Comedic actors are rarely remembered for social contributions. Sherman Hemsley deserves to be recognized for raising awareness of the social ills of the 70s and 80s. It was his mastery as an actor that allowed viewers to embrace George Jefferson’s views.
Sherman Hemsley was born in Philadelphia on February 1st 1938. His first acting role – in a school play – was, not surprisingly, as a fire…. As a youth, he dropped out of school to join the Air Force where he spent several years. Upon his return, his mind was made up, Sherman decided to become an actor. He moved from Philadelphia to the center of the world (New York) where he worked at a post office during the day and studied acting at night.
Sherman didn’t pursue the role of George Jefferson. It was Norman Lear the writer and producer of “All in the Family” who approached Hemsley and offered him the role. Sherman didn’t jump at the opportunity: with prior commitments tying him for two years, he fulfilled those before joining the cast of “All in the Family”. The rest is history.
Sherman Hemsley shot to fame for his appearances on “All in the Family” and was so well-liked by audiences that 5 years later he became the star of his own spin-off “The Jeffersons” which lasted for 11 successful seasons. He and his co-star Isabel Sanford became so famous as their characters (Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson) that they were repeatedly invited as a team for guest appearances in movies, TV sitcoms and commercials.
Sherman Hemsley played other roles with his most notable perhaps as the deacon Ernest Frye on NBC sitcom “Amen” (1986) which continued until 1991. In 2011 Sherman Hemsley guest starred with George Jefferson’s maid (Marla Gibbs) on TBS’ “House of Payne”. In addition to his acting career, Sherman was also an accomplished singer.
Hemsley was a talented, successful and beloved character actor with many credits to his name. His unique, fiery personality and charm had (and continue to have) many fans. Surprisingly, Hemsley never married nor had children.
Sherman Hemsley died on 24th of July 2012 at the age of 74 from complications of lung cancer. He didn’t smoke.