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Sherman Hemsley dies at 74, remembered as TV groundbreaker

Sara Hall

Sherman Hemsley died at age 74 on Tuesday.

Hemsley starred on All in the Family, The Jeffersons

Sherman Hemsley, the comic actor best known for his groundbreaking role in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family and his lead role in the spinoff The Jeffersons, died at 74 on Tuesday in El Paso. El Paso police said Sherman Hemsley was found dead at a home where neighbors said he’d lived for years. No foul play is suspected.

Sherman Hemsley first got his breakout in his role as George Jefferson, the neighbor to Archie and Edith Bunker on All in the Family. He then moved on to his own spin-off show, The Jeffersons, in which he played the husband of Isabel Sanford’s character, Louise. The show was set on the East Side of Manhattan.

The Jeffersons was a groundbreaking show, as it was the first on primetime to feature an upscale African American couple, as well as the first to cast an interracial couple. The show dealt with controversial issues at the time, especially racism.  For his time on the show, Sherman Hemsley earned an Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. The Jeffersons ran for 10 years.

“He was a love of a guy” and “immensely talented,” Norman Lear, producer of The Jeffersons and All in the Family, said after learning of the death of Sherman Hemsley.

After the show’s run, Sherman Hemsley later starred as Deacon Ernest Frye on Amen, which aired from 1986 to 1991, as well as making other TV appearances throughout his acting career.

Sherman Hemsley was born Feb. 1, 1938, in Philadelphia. He trained at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts, and then began acting in New York workshops and theater companies, such as the Negro Ensemble Company.

Sherman Hemsley also starred in films, including 1979’s Love at First Bite, 1987’s Stewardess School and 1987’s Ghost Fever. He also released an album, Ain’t That a Kick in the Head, in 1989.

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