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80s TV Fixture Sherman Hemsley Passes Away at 74

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There was not a year in the 80s where you could not see actor Sherman Hemsley on TV.  He parlayed his big break in the mid-70s on one of the most successful shows in television history into a 16-year run that few can touch.  Hemsley passed away earlier on Tuesday morning at the age of 74.

Hemsley was born and bred in South Philly, worked as a postal worker in the city in his early years while taking acting classes on his off time.  Hemsley performed with local groups in Philadelphia before moving to New York to take his chances.  In 1971 he met Norman Lear while he was performing in Purlie on the Broadway stage, and his life would change forever.

Lear gave Hemsley his first Hollywood acting job, and the character he would play would define his career.  All In The Family was slowly becoming a historic TV series on CBS when Sherman entered the fray in 1973 as George Jefferson.  Over the next 2 years, his character with his wife “Weezy” (played by Isabel Sanford) appeared as semi-regulars only strengthening the most cutting edge show of its time.

By 1975, The Jeffersons were “Moving On Up, To The East Side” for their piece of the pie as Jefferson Cleaners had become a successful small chain.  That piece of the pie for Sherman and the cast would be 11 seasons of success on CBS between 1975-1985, 13 Emmy nominations over its run, and becoming one of only 20 episodic TV shows in 1985 to eclipse 250 episodes (254 by the time The Jeffersons ended).

Hemsley kept working and scored another hit series in 1986 on NBC with Amen.  Sherman played Deacon Frye, the head of the First Community Church of Philadelphia, and in trying to keep everything in his church firmly under control is where most of the comedy ensued.  Amen enjoyed a 5 season run and 110 episodes through 1991.

Over the last 20 years since Amen, Hemsley popped doing guest starring work on many TV shows ranging from ER to Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (just to name a few).  He was seen in one of the American Pie movies in 2009 (American Pie Presents The Book of Love), and was last seen on TV last year on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

Surprisingly, Hemsley was only nominated once for an Emmy Award, while his co-stars Isabel Sanford and Marla Gibbs were nominated a combined 11 times (6 for Isabel, 5 for Marla).

Lenny Kravitz got to know Sherman Hemsley as a kid – his mom Roxie Roker was a co-star on The Jeffersons.  Lenny’s tweet of Sherman sums up his place in TV history best – “Your contribution changed the fabric of American culture”.

 

 

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