Sherman Alexander Hemsley
February 1, 1938
|Died||July 24, 2012 (aged 74)|
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Resting place||Fort Bliss National Cemetery, El Paso, Texas, U.S.|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Air Force|
Sherman Alexander Hemsley (February 1, 1938 – July 24, 2012) was an American actor and musician, known for his roles as George Jefferson on the CBS television series All in the Family and The Jeffersons, Deacon Ernest Frye on the NBC series Amen, and B.P. Richfield on the ABC series Dinosaurs. Hemsley also played Judge Carl Robertson on the NBC series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. For his work on The Jeffersons, Hemsley was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award. He also won an NAACP Image Award.
Hemsley was born and raised in South Philadelphia by his mother, who worked in a lamp factory. He did not meet his father until he was 14. He attended Barrat Middle School, Central High School for 9th grade and Bok Technical High School for 10th, when he dropped out of school and joined the United States Air Force, where he served for four years.
On leaving the Air Force, he returned to Philadelphia, where he worked for the United States Postal Service during the day while attending the Academy of Dramatic Arts at night. He then moved to New York, continuing to work for the post office during the day while working as an actor at night. He starred as Gitlow in the early 1970s Broadway musical Purlie.
Hemsley performed with local groups in Philadelphia before moving to New York to study with Lloyd Richards at the Negro Ensemble Company. Shortly after, he joined Vinnette Carroll's Urban Arts Company appearing in these productions: But Never Jam Today, The Lottery, Old Judge Mose is Dead, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, Step Lively Boys, Croesus, and The Witch. He made his Broadway debut in Purlie and toured with the show for a year. In the summer of 1972, he joined the Vinnette Carroll musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope ensemble in Toronto, followed a month later in the American Conservatory Theater production at the Geary Theater. In this production, Hemsley performed the solos "Lookin' Over From Your Side" in Act I and "Sermon" in Act II.
Work with Norman Lear
While Hemsley was on Broadway with Purlie, Norman Lear called him in 1971 to play the recurring role of George Jefferson in his new sitcom, All in the Family. Hemsley was reluctant to leave his theatre role, but Lear told him that he would hold the role open for him. Hemsley joined the cast two years later. The characters of Hemsley and co-star Isabel Sanford were supporting occasional roles on All in the Family, but were given their own spin-off, The Jeffersons, two years after Hemsley made his debut on the sitcom. The Jeffersons proved to be one of Lear's most successful series, enjoying a run of 11 seasons through 1985.
1980s, 1990s, and 2000s
Hemsley continued to work steadily after the show's cancellation, largely typecast in George Jefferson-like roles. He teamed with the sitcom's original cast members when The Jeffersons moved to Broadway for a brief run. He later joined the cast of NBC's Amen in 1986 as Deacon Ernest Frye, a church deacon. The sitcom enjoyed a run of five seasons, ending in 1991. Hemsley then was a voice actor in the ABC live-action puppet series Dinosaurs, where he played Bradley P. Richfield, the boss of the main character, Earl. The series ran four seasons, ending in 1994.
Hemsley retired from television acting, although Isabel Sanford and he appeared together in the mid to late 1990s and in the early 2000s, reprising their roles in guest roles on such television series as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; in commercials for The Gap, Old Navy, and Denny's; and at dry cleaning conventions. He also starred with Sanford in a touring company of The Real Live Jeffersons stage show in the 1990s. Sanford and he made a cameo appearance in the film Sprung. They continued to work together on occasion until Sanford began having health problems that led to her death in 2004.
In 2001, Hemsley appeared as a contestant on the "Celebrity Classic TV Edition" special of ABC's hit primetime quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and won $125,000 for his charity.
Hemsley made four appearances in the sitcom Sister, Sister as Ray Campbell's father. He also made a voice appearance as himself in the Seth MacFarlane animated comedy Family Guy. He appeared in the film American Pie Presents: The Book of Love. In 2011, he reprised his role as George Jefferson for the final time, alongside Marla Gibbs as Florence Johnston, on Tyler Perry's House of Payne.
He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2012.
In 1989, Hemsley, who had been a jazz keyboardist, released a single, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head." This was followed in 1992 by Dance, an album of rhythm and blues music. He appeared on Soul Train around the time of the record's release and also performed the song "Eyes in the Dark.”
Hemsley was a shy and intensely private man, described by some as reclusive. He avoided the Hollywood limelight and little of his personal life was public knowledge beyond the facts that he never married and he had no children. In 2003, however, Hemsley granted a rare video interview to the Archive of American Television. "[Playing George Jefferson] was hard for me. But he was the character. I had to do it."
On July 24, 2012, Hemsley died at his home in El Paso, Texas, at age 74. The cause of death was given as superior vena cava syndrome, a complication associated with lung and bronchial carcinomas. He had a malignant mass on one of his lungs for which chemotherapy and radiation had been recommended, according to the El Paso County Texas Medical Examiner's report.
On August 28, 2012, an El Paso news anchor interviewed Flora Isela Enchinton, the sole beneficiary of Hemsley's will, who said that the two were friends and had been business partners for more than two decades. During this time she lived with Hemsley and his friend Kenny Johnston. Enchinton told the Associated Press that Hemsley never mentioned any relatives. "Some people come out of the woodwork—they think Sherman, they think money", Enchinton told 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."
A Philadelphia man named Richard Thornton claimed to be Hemsley's brother and the true heir to his estate. After contesting the will, Thornton halted progress on funeral arrangements, and as a result, Hemsley's body remained at the San Jose Funeral Home in El Paso and unburied for months. On November 9, 2012, the legal battle over Hemsley's body ended when Judge Patricia Chew ruled in favor of Enchinton.
- Love at First Bite (1979) - Reverend Mike (film debut)
- Stewardess School (1986) - Mr. Buttersworth
- Ghost Fever (1986) - Buford/Jethro
- Club Fed (1990) - Reverend James Dooley
- Mr. Nanny (1993) - Burt Wilson
- Home of Angels (1994) - Buzzard Bracken
- The Misery Brothers (1995) - Rev. Scheister
- A Christmas Journey Home (1996) - Steve
- Sprung (1997) - Earl
- Casper: A Spirited Beginning (1997) - Harvey
- Senseless (1998) - James
- Mafia! (1998) - George Jefferson (uncredited)
- Screwed (2000) - Chip Oswald
- Hanging in Hedo (2008) - Henry Hunter
- For The Love Of A Dog (2008) - George O'Donnell
- American Pie Presents: The Book of Love (2009) - Pastor Reggie Johnston (final film appearance)
- All in the Family (1973–1978) - George Jefferson
- The Jeffersons (1975–1985) - George Jefferson
- The Love Boat (1977-1983) - Henry Bullard / Maurice Marshall
- The Donny & Marie Show (1978?) - Guest star
- The Incredible Hulk (1979, season 2 episode 18 "No Escape") - Robert
- Pink Lady (1980; guest-starred) - Himself
- Purlie (1981, TV Movie) - Gitlow Judson
- Fantasy Island (Nov. 7, 1981) (Season 5, Episode 5, "Mr. Nobody/La Liberatora") - Charlie Atkins
- E/R (1984) (guest spots as Nurse Julie Williams') - Uncle George Jefferson
- The Twilight Zone (1985, Episode: "I of Newton") - Sam
- Alice in Wonderland (1985, TV Movie) - Mouse
- Candid Camera (1986) - Dick Sherman
- Amen (1986–1991) - Deacon Ernest Frye
- 227 (1988, guest starred in the episode "The Big Deal") - Thurmond Fox
- Camp Cucamonga (1990, TV Movie) - Herbert Himmel
- Dinosaurs (1991–1994) - B.P. Richfield (voice)
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1992-1996, guest starred, TV Series) - Judge Carl Robertson / George Jefferson
- Designing Women (1993, in the episode "Wedding Redux") - Mr. Ray Toussant
- In Living Color (February 14, 1993) - guest appearance as George Jefferson in sketch, Lashawn: Dry Cleaners
- Burke's Law (1994, in "Who Killed the Legal Eagle?") - Judge J.R. Powell
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1994, in the Episode "Seasons Greedings") - Winslow P Schott, a.k.a. Toyman
- The Magic School Bus (1995, guest starred, in "Revved Up") - Mr. Junkit
- The Wayans Bros. (1995, episode "It's Shawn! It's Marlon! It's The Superboys!") - Mr. Stone
- Sister, Sister (1995, guest spots) - Grandpa Campbell
- Goode Behavior (1996–1997) - Willie Goode
- Martin (1996) - Mr. Washington
- All That (1997; guest starred in two episodes) - Doctor
- The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998, guest starred in "Up, Up and Away") - Union Spy
- The Hughleys (1999–2000) - James Williams
- Family Matters (Captain Marion Savage — Carl's superior)
- All That (1997, Good Burger food critic / Mr. Gurman)
- Figure It Out (1999) (Guest Panelist)
- Up, Up, and Away (2000, TV Movie) - Edward Marshall / Steel Condor
- Mister Ed (2004, TV Movie) - Mr. Ed (voice)
- Family Guy (2005, in a voice cameo ("The Father, the Son, and the Holy Fonz") - Himself
- The Surreal Life (2006, cast member in 2006)
- Clunkers (2011, 8 episodes) - Boss
- Tyler Perry's House of Payne (2011, guest starred) - George Jefferson
- One Love (2014) - Grandpa Roy (final television appearance, filmed 2012)
- Dance (1992)
- Schaffer, Michael D. (July 24, 2012). "'Jeffersons' star Sherman Hemsley dies at 74". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
- "Ask Monika". St. Petersburg Times. September 3, 1989. p. 64.
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- "The Jeffersons take the stage". EW.com. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
- O'Neal, Sean (July 24, 2012). "R.I.P. Sherman Hemsley". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
- "Sherman Hemsley – Dance". Allmusic. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
- Sherman Hemsley performs "Eyes in the Dark" on Soul Train (1992) Archived February 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Bing.com; accessed October 8, 2016.
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- "George Jefferson: World's Biggest Gong Fan". Magnet. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
- Watkins, Mel (July 24, 2012). "Sherman Hemsley, 'Jeffersons' Star, Is Dead at 74". The New York Times. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
- Sherman Hemsley of 'The Jefferson's' fame, found dead in El Paso Archived February 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, alamogordonews.com; accessed September 28, 2016.
- "County of El Paso: Post Mortem Report: Sherman Alexander Hemsley" (PDF). Autopsyfiles.org. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
- Walsh, Michael (July 24, 2012). "Sherman Hemsley dead: 'Jeffersons' star dies at age 74". Daily News. New York. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
- "'The Jeffersons' star Sherman Hemsley found dead at home", indianexpress.com; accessed September 28, 2016.
- Dougherty, Matt; Martinez, Leonard (August 29, 2012). "Body of actor Sherman Hemsley stored in funeral home cooler, not buried, weeks after his death". KVIA. Archived from the original on September 1, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
- Kinser, Jeremy (August 30, 2012). "Sherman Hemsley Remains Unburied Due to Will Dispute". advocate.com. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
- Duke, Alan (August 30, 2012). "Actor Sherman Hemsley unburied amid fight over his remains". CNN. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
- "Will of Jeffersons star Sherman Hemsley is valid actor can be buried". Associated Press. November 9, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
- McKay, Hollie (November 14, 2012). "Military funeral planned for Sherman Hemsley months after death". Fox News. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
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