When learning of Sherman Hemsley
’s death yesterday, many fans mourned for the loss of George Jefferson, Hemsley’s on-screen alter ego, almost as much as they did for Hemsley himself.
Sherman Hemsley and his TV family, Isabel Sanford and Mike Evans (Wikimedia Commons/CBS Television Network)
For 13 television seasons, Hemsley played George Jefferson, first as an occasional visitor on All in the Family, and later as the patriarch and star of The Jeffersons. Hemsley was initially reluctant to take the part, as he was enjoying a successful career on Broadway, starring in Purlie, a musical based on an Ossie Davis play. But producer Norman Lear said he was willing to wait, and Hemsley agreed to join the cast when Purlie's run ended. Meanwhile, his soon-to-be TV wife Weezie Jefferson, played by Isabel Sanford, was already appearing on All in the Family – with husband George's absence explained as a refusal to set foot in bigot Archie Bunker's house. Finally, two years later, Purlie ended, Hemsley joined the TV cast, and George's relationship with Archie began to thaw a bit. Just a bit.
When George and Weezie became hugely popular with Archie Bunker's audience, producers spun them off into their own show, The Jeffersons, and Sherman Hemsley – or at least, George Jefferson – truly became a household name.
Though we love George Jefferson, he wasn't Hemsley's only beloved character. After The Jeffersons ended, he went on to play a church deacon in Amen… and a dinosaur in Dinosaurs.
More than just an actor, Hemsley pursued a music career as well. Though he never had any top hits, his 1989 single "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" landed him a guest spot on Soul Train.
Whether he's singing and dancing or shouting his way through an episode of one of his many TV shows, that voice is unmistakable. And we'll miss it now that Sherman Hemsley is gone.
Written by Linnea Crowther