Sherman Hemsley, better known as George Jefferson (his role on 70s staple sitcom The Jeffersons), died today at the age of 74. He's moved on up, to a de-luxe apartment in the sky. He passed away from natural causes.
To understand his impact, one only need to know that The Jeffersons ran from 1975 to 1985, the year before I was born, and yet George Jefferson is as recognizable to me as even the most famous celebrity. And I'm not the only one. Generations of children have grown up on and loved The Jeffersons. As a show it has been passed down again and again like a priceless heirloom. In no small part because of Hemsley's hilarious performance as the titular George Jefferson.
I'm gonna walk like George Jefferson for the rest of the day.
— SexyErin (@SosexyErin) July 19, 2012
George Jefferson was Hemsley's first major television gig. It started as a role on All in the Family as Archie Bunker's neighbor before he moved on up to the East Side and his own spin-off that became The Jeffersons. He reprized the role later on on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and House of Payne.
Even though George Jefferson is by far his most famous and beloved role, Sherman Hemsley continually delighted anyone who likes to laugh all the way up until his death. He was Deacon Ernest Frye on Amen, he was Uncle Phil's nemesis Judge Carl Robertson on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and B.P. Richfield on Dinosaurs. I know I loved him in the Comedy Central Sunday afternoon rotation movie Screwed with Norm MacDonald, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, and Danny DeVito.
Hemsley was born in Philadelphia on February 1, 1938, and grew up to join the Air Force. After four years of service he worked at a post office in New York while dabbling in acting. He then got a role on Broadway and toured with the show Purlie. It was while with Purlie that he got the call from Norman Lear to take on his iconic character, George Jefferson.
For all the goofy "movin' on up" jokes it's difficult to remember how radical a sitcom about an upwardly mobile black family was in the 70s.
— Zack Stentz (@MuseZack) July 24, 2012
At least we all know exactly how Sherman Hemsley walked through the pearly gates. #Strut
— Michael Torpey (@TorpeyMichael) July 24, 2012
RIP the great George Jefferson. Thanks so much to comedic pioneer Sherman Hemsley for bringing a black family into my white hometown
— Tom Morello (@tmorello) July 24, 2012
What are your memories of Mr. Hemsley? What did the Jeffersons mean to you?