I sadly heard of news that Sherman Hemsley passed away today and all I could do was hum "Movin' on up, to the east side" in my head. The beginning of that show was iconic (as was the show) but it truly was because the show starred such a brilliant comedian, such as Hemsley. He passed away in his home in El Paso, Texas today at the age of 74 and no cause of death has been confirmed.
Hemsley began his career in theater and on Broadway, but moved to television when he got a call from Norman Lear asking him to play the role of George Jefferson in the new sitcom All in the Family. From that moment on, the actor's life would never be the same. He played the foil to the character of Archie Bunker in All in the Family and although the show revolved around the over-the top bigoted character, the characters of George and Louise Jefferson quickly became fan favorites. Just two years after All in the Family began, CBS decided to create a spin-off based on George and Louise and once it went on-air, The Jeffersons quickly became popular and then went on to be one of the most successful sitcoms in television history. The show remained on air for an astounding 11 seasons, and much of that was attributed to the chemistry between Hemsley and his on-screen wife, played by Isabel Sanford. He never won, but Hemsley was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of George Jefferson. The show ended in 1985, but the legend of the series was cemented in television history.
Once The Jeffersons was completed, Hemsley went on to play Deacon Ernest Frye in the comedy Amen on NBC. In this show, he played a character similar to George Jefferson; he was a scheming head of a church who always got himself into crazy situations. The show was part of the run of successful NBC comedies in the 80s that included The Cosby Show and A Different World. Amen was on-air for five years before coming to an end and I remember watching it religiously.
Hemsley then went on to play probably my favorite role the actor inhabited – the voice of Bradley P. Richfield in the live-action puppet comedy Dinosaurs. I don't think I realized until this moment that he was a part of that show, but my love for him has just now grown as it was one of my favorite TGIF staples.
After Dinosaurs, he largely retired from acting, but he and Isabel Sanford would occasionally appear as guest stars in sitcoms together playing their characters from The Jeffersons. The most notable were probably their appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Sherman Hemsley is an actor that is instantly recognizable and a true pop culture icon. He made us laugh for years on end and for that we honor him, as we reflect on the life of a brilliant actor and comedian.