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Sherman Hemsley of TV's 'The Jeffersons' dies at 74

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 25th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One of the brightest spots in Seventies TV comedy was by far "The Jeffersons." With its catchy theme song, "Movin' on Up," the show detailed the travails of an African American couple, played by Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford who ran a successful dry cleaning business in Manhattan. Hemsley played the husband George Jefferson to the hilt, as a brash, opinionated businessman. Hemsley passed away this week at the age of 74.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Hemsley was found dead at his El Paso, Texas home. Police say there is no suspicion of foul play. Hemsley had no wife or children. 

Hemsley originally played Jefferson as a semi-regular character on "All in the Family" from 1973 until 1975, when the spinoff "The Jeffersons" began an 11-season run on CBS.

For the first few years on "All in the Family," George Jefferson was never seen, only referred to by his wife, Louise. At the behest of the show's producers, Hemsley show's portrayed Jefferson as "pompous and feisty."

What was so surprising to audiences at that time was that Jefferson was every bit as bigoted as his neighbor, Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O'Connor, referring to white people as "honkies."

Mean and condescending to his neighbors, he was a perpetual thorn in the side of his son Lionel. His character was still wildly popular with TV audiences.

"By me loving Louise and Archie loving (his wife) Edith, you got away with being goofy and stupid," he said in 2003. "Because people said at least he loved something."

Former co-star Florence Johnston, who played the maid on the series, said she was shocked to hear he had died.

"I thought Sherman was doing very well . I am saddened to hear that Sherman has made his transition. We were trying to come up with a new show that we could participate in, but of course, that cannot happen now.

"Sherman was one of the most generous co-stars I have ever worked with. He happily set me up so that I could slam him, and I did the same for him. I shall miss him deeply."

Hemsley also played Deacon Ernest Frye in the sitcom "Amen."

Producer Norman Lear released a statement regarding Hemsley, "With the passing of Sherman Hemsley, the world loses one of its most unique comedic talents, and a lovely man." Lear claimed discovered Hemsley doing the Broadway play "Purlie." Lear remembered him "singing and dancing, and (Hemsley) was one of the most unique actors on the stage."

In 1990, he released an album, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," and two years later another, entitled "Dance."

Hemsley was nominated for an Emmy in 1985 but lost to Bill Cosby.

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