Police are reporting that Sherman Hemsley, the man who became famous playing George Jefferson on The Jeffersons, has died at his home in El Paso, Texas. He was 74.
The George Jefferson character first appeared on the popular sitcom All in the Family. According to People.com, the South Philadelphia-native made his Broadway debut playing the character Gitlow in Purlie. “While touring with the production, television writer and producer Norman Lear contacted Hemsley to play the role of Jefferson on his new sitcom, All in the Family. Hemsley hesitated to accept but Lear held the role open for him and two years later, Hemsley joined the cast.”
Hemsley quickly become a hit with viewers, and this spawned The Jeffersons spin-off series with costar Isabel Sanford. The series earned Hemsley both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations in 1984 and 1985, respectively.
Following The Jeffersons, Hemsley took on various supporting roles and was eventually cast as Deacon Ernest Frye in the NBC series, Amen; he stayed in this role from 1986 – 1991. Hemsley was also a professional singer, releasing a single in 1989 and an R&B album in 1992. He and Sanford also reprised their roles as George and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and in numerous commercials.
Hemsley had no wife or children, and for years there was speculation that he was a closeted gay man. Advocate.com’s Jeremy Kinser notes, “A 2007 VH1 story that listed three favorite allegedly gay black actors from the past put Hemsley in the top spot. The story also references a frequent but unsubstantiated rumor that Hemsley’s sexual orientation led to problems on the set with Jeffersons costar Isabelle Sanford.”
Whether or not those rumors prove true remains to be seen. As of this moment, all we know is that Hemsley is, indeed, “Movin’ on up…”