Sad news for fans of groundbreaking TV show “The Jeffersons,” star Sherman Hemsley died on Tuesday (July 24). The television icon was at his home in El Paso, Texas, where he is believed to have died of natural causes, according to TMZ.
The 74-year-old actor began his career on Broadway in the early ’70s, where he was spotted by legendary TV producer/ sitcom godfather Norman Lear, who asked him to audition for a role on his wildly popular show. The series, “All in the Family,” would make Hemsley a household name. Although it took him two years to accept Lear’s invitation, Hemsley became an instant favorite upon joining the cast in 1973, thanks in large part to the magnetic chemistry and hilarious banter between Hemsley and his TV wife, Isabel Sanford.
George (Hemsley) and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson (Sanford) were given their own show in 1975, spinning off their characters into “The Jeffersons,” which aired on CBS for 11 seasons and 253 episodes. The onscreen couple were working-class Harlem, New York, natives who moved up the economic and social ladder after George opened and expanded a chain of dry cleaners. The show went on to garner countless award nominations and is considered a landmark program in television history. It is still the longest-aired sitcom with a predominately African-American cast. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, it was also the first TV show to feature a married interracial couple.
After the end of “The Jeffersons,” Hemsley continued to act on multiple television shows and in films, including the hit ’80s sitcom “Amen,” on which he played a church deacon. But George Jefferson will be Hemsley’s enduring legacy, a role he often reprised alongside Sanford. The fictional couple appeared in the series finale of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” an Old Navy campaign and took home a TV Land award for “Most Cantankerous Couple.” Sanford passed away in 2004.
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