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[ Sherman Alexander Hemsley ]
(February 1, 1938 – July 24, 2012)
Early Life ...
...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. ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxSz2_rlL5k
...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.
Music career ...
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 with 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 an enthusiastic fan of 1970s progressive rock bands, including Yes, Gentle Giant, Gong, and Nektar.
Personal life and death ...
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. "It [playing George Jefferson] was hard for me. But he was the character. I had to do it." ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4m7d8pz4nY
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. About 150 people attended the service at Cielo Vista Church in El Paso.
A military funeral was planned for Hemsley. He was interred at
Fort Bliss National Cemetery in his adopted hometown of El Paso, TX. ...