S herman Hemsley, best known for his starring role in the sitcom The Jeffersons, has passed away. Sherman, died at his home in El Paso, Texas. He was found by his nurse who thought the actor was asleep. Once she realized something was wrong, she called 911. Sherman, was 74; no cause of death is yet known. Born on February 1, 1938 in Philadelphia, Sherman was raised in South Philadelphia by his mother, who was a factory worker. He dropped out of school and joined the Air Force, where he served for four years. Upon leaving the Air Force, he returned to Philadelphia where he worked for the Post Office during the day while attending acting school 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 the character Gitlow in the early 1970s Broadway play Purlie.
While Sherman was on Broadway with Purlie, Norman Lear called him in 1971 to play the role of George Jefferson on his burgeoning new sitcom, All in the Family. Sherman was reluctant to leave his theatre role, but Norman Lear told him that he would hold the role open for him. Sherman joined the cast two years later. The characters of Sherman and co-star Isabel Sanford were secondary on All in the Family, but were given their own spin-off series, The Jeffersons, less than two years after Sherman made his debut on the show.
Such was Sherman’s and Isabel’s compatibility and credibility as a married couple that no one seemed to notice or care that in real life Isabel was twenty years older than Sherman. The Jeffersons proved to be one of Norman Lear’s most successful shows, enjoying a run of 11 seasons through 1985.
The name “Weezy” came about due to a girl Sherman had a crush on in real-life, named Louise. Sherman Hemsley would call her Weezy, and one day asked Isabel Sanford if he could call her character Weezy and she said yes.
Though Sherman was largely typecast as George Jefferson, he continued to work steadily after the show’s cancellation. Sherman joined the cast of NBC’s Amen in 1986 as Ernest Frye, an unscrupulous church deacon much like his George Jefferson character. The show enjoyed a run of five seasons, ending in 1991.
Sherman largely retired from television acting after Amen, although he and Isabel Sanford appeared together in the late ’90s and in the early 2000s, reprising their roles in guest spots on television programs such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, commercials for The Gap, Old Navy and Denny’s, and dry cleaning conventions. They continued to work together on occasion until Sanford began having health problems leading to her death in 2004.
Little is known about Sherman’s personal life. He wasn’t married and never had children. But The Jeffersons is his legacy, and a fondly remembered one. George and Weezy finally both have their deluxe apartment in sky!
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