Sherman Hemsley, best known for playing business owner and big shot George Jefferson on the TV sitcom “The Jeffersons,” has died. He was 74 years old.
The Washington Post says the death was confirmed by his agent, Todd Frank, but what wasn't immediately known were other key details, such as when he died.
A cause of death for the actor is pending autopsy results, El Paso police said in a statement, People reports.
However, they said they do not expect foul play. Hemsley was found at his home in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday morning "without signs of life," WTVM states.
Movin on up
Hemsley began "moving on up" the day he met television writer and producer Norman Lear, while touring with a Broadway production. Lear wanted Hemsley to play the role of George Jefferson on his new sitcom, a little known show called, All in the Family.
If you can believe it, at first, Hemsley hesitated to accept the role. But Lear knew what he had in Hemsley and held the role open for him. Two years later, Hemsley joined the cast, playing Archie Bunker's former neighbor George Jefferson.
The Jeffersons, an All in the Family spin-off, had a series of firsts. It was the first to feature an upscale African American couple in prime time, paving the way for the Cosby show. It was the first to cast an interracial couple. The show ran on CBS from 1975 to 1985 and when it was canceled it was the longest-running prime-time series on the air.
The LA Times, Hemsley earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his comedic performance.
Hemsley embodied the hot-tempered, upwardly mobile, janitor-turned-dry-cleaner-owner George Jefferson as he moved from the working-class to the middle-class as the owner of a chain of dry-cleaning businesses. Isabel Sanford, who played his wife, was his foil as the strong-willed and level-headed "Weezie." She died in 2004.
Hemsley later starred as scheming Philly preacher Deacon Ernest Frye on NBC's “Amen,” which aired from 1986 to 1991, and made other TV appearances during a long acting career.
Born in South Philadelphia on Feb. 1, 1938, Hemsley dropped out of high school to join the Air Force. He returned to Philadelphia and worked for the U.S. Postal Service so he could pay acting classes which he took at night at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Hemsley never married and has no children, MSNBC reports.
USA Today notes, in a 1977 Jeffersons episode titled "George's Legacy," the character decided to immortalize himself by hiring a sculptor to create his bust.
"A man's got to leave his mark," George tells the bust. "Something to prove that he's been here. Otherwise, there ain't no sense in showing up at all."
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