Forgive the pun, but today, actor Sherman Hemsley moved on up, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Now, if you don’t get the pun in that sentence, then you probably never watched “The Jeffersons.” Hemsley played the lead, George Jefferson, on that show, one of the most beloved comedies of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. He died at age 74 of what is being reported as natural causes.
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Before he had his own show, Hemsley played the neighbor on “All in the Family.” He and Archie Bunker often butted heads. He and wife Louise, played by Isabel Sanford, appeared on the show from 1973 until 1975. The Jeffersons owned dry cleaners in the working class neighborhood the Bunkers lived in, but because it was successful, they and son Lionel were able to move to a luxury apartment in Manhattan. There, they met interracial couple Helen (played by actress Roxie Roker aka Lenny Kravitz’s mama), Tom and their daughter Jenny. Also appearing as regulars on the show was bumbling British neighbor Harry Bentley, “Mother” Jefferson (George’s mom), and lovable, but sassy housekeeper Florence.
The show featured a mainly African American cast, which was groundbreaking at the time, and talked about such sensitive subjects as racism, gun control, suicide, and interracial marriage.
The show had a good long run (11 years), but was cancelled without a finale, which was a sore point for the cast.
After “The Jeffersons,” Hemsley worked steadily, appearing in “Amen” for five seasons and did voiceover for “Dinosaurs” for five seasons as well. He did guest appearances in both film and movies and even appeared as himself on “Family Guy.”
On his passing, Marla Gibbs, who played Florence, said “He was a very unselfish actor. And he was good at setting me up – he would come up with hysterical stuff on the spot. We always got along great.”