Sherman Hemsley, 'Jeffersons' Star, Dies at 74

Sherman Hemsley Headshot - P 2012
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Sherman Hemsley Headshot - P 2012

UPDATED: The actor was found in his home in El Paso, Texas.

Sherman Hemsley, best known for his starring turn as the charming yet curmudgeonly George Jefferson in the sitcom The Jeffersons, has died, TMZ reports. He was 74.

Hemsley was found in his home in El Paso, Texas; no cause of death is yet known. He was unmarried and had no children.

A former postman from South Philadelphia, Hemsley burst on the national scene when he joined the Norman Lear-produced All in the Family in October 1973 during the CBS series’ fourth season, playing the pompous and feisty George, the pint-sized head of the family who lives next door to the Bunkers and spars with the bigoted Archie (Carroll O'Connor).

After two years, Hemsley moved on up to become the star of his own CBS spinoff, The Jeffersons, on which he co-starred with Isabel Sanford as his wife Louise. (The Jeffersons left working-class Queens for the Upper East Side of Manhattan and “a deluxe apartment in the sky,” as the theme song went, with George using money from a lawsuit to buy a string of dry-cleaning businesses.)

On the air for 11 seasons and 253 episodes, The Jeffersons, which premiered in January 1975, is believed to be the longest-running sitcom with a predominantly black cast in the history of American television. The sitcom also is noteworthy for featuring an interracial married couple (played by Roxie Roker, the real-life mother of rocker Lenny Kravitz, and Franklin Cover).

“With the passing of Sherman Hemsley, the world loses one of its most unique comic talents and a lovely man,” Lear said in a statement.

Hemsley collected Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his work on The Jeffersons in 1984 and 1985.

He would later go on to star as an unscrupulous deacon in Amen, an NBC sitcom that aired from 1986-1991; lend his raspy voice to the mean Triceratops boss B.P. Richfield in the Jim Henson puppet series Dinosaurs, which ran on ABC from 1991-94; and star as a newly paroled con artist in the 1996-97 UPN series Goode Behavior.

His TV résumé also includes such series as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and House of Payne (in both, he appeared as George Jefferson), Sister, Sister, Clunkers and Family Matters.

A native of South Philadelphia, Hemsley returned home after a stint in the Air Force, working for the post office during the day and attending acting school at night. He followed that routine after moving to New York, then landed a role on Broadway in the early 1970s in the musical Purlie, where he was spotted by Lear.

In 2001, Hemsley told The El Paso Times that he split his time between the Texas city and Los Angeles and preferred El Paso’s “peacefulness.” In recent years, he started living in El Paso full time.