Sherman Hemsley said it was really hard to play George Jefferson
by Marie Seva
Born on February 1st, 1938, Sherman Alexander Hemsley or simply Sherman Hemsley, (as he is more popularly known), was the person behind the character, George Jefferson on the CBS series, “All in the Family” and the hit series “The Jeffersons.” He also played the role of Deacon Ernest Frye on the TV, “Amen,” and of B.P. Richfield, on the sitcom, “Dinosaurs” by Jim Henson and Michael Jacobs.
Here are a few things you may not know about Sherman Hemsley:
1.) Hemsley was born and grew up in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of 22nd and Christian streets. He was raised solely by his mother, who was a worker in a lamp factory. It was not until he was 14 years of age that he met his father, who was a worker in a printing press.
2.) After attending school at Barrat Middle School, Central High School (9th grade) and Bok Technical High School (10th grade), he dropped out. He wanted to serve the country and joined the U.S. Air Force, where he spent four years of his youth in honorable service.
3.) His first steps toward achieving his goal of having a career in acting was in Philadelphia, attending classes at night at the Academy of Dramatic Arts. This he did while employed at the Post Office where he worked during the day. His continuous efforts were well rewarded. Apart from landing a successful career in TV, heaven must have been smiling down on him for in 2012, he was numbered among the few inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
4.) Hemsley had a heart for music. He had been a fan of progressive rock bands in the 70’s such as Yes, Gong, Nektar and Gentle Giant. In 1989 he released his single, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” And in 1992, he also released the album, “Dance Sherman.”
5.) Hemsley was actually a timid, reticent man, sometimes described by others as withdrawn. He prefers to live a quiet life and keep his personal affairs extremely private.
6.) Hemsley had not tied the knot with anyone, nor did he have any children.
7.) George Jefferson’s character was made by Norman Lear for Hemsley. Because Hemsley was engaged in the Broadway play, “Purlie,” during season one of “All in the Family,” Lear postponed the appearance of “George Jefferson” in the series until Hemsley was finally available.
8.) Hemsley found playing the role of George Jefferson to be immensely challenging. In an interview with Archive of American Television in 2003, he revealed, “All of it was really hard … because – rude, I don’t like to be that way. But it was the character, I had to do it. I had to be true to the character.” Robert Almonte, a friend of Hemsley in Texas, said that Hemsley’s real – life character pretty much opposed that of George Jefferson’s. Almonte stated, “That’s how great an actor he was.”
9.) Hemsley died of lung cancer in El Paso, Texas, at the age of 74 on July 24, 2012. His Will showed that he had assigned his long time (20+ years) friend, business partner and manager, Flora Isela Enchinton, as the sole beneficiary of all his estate which only amounted to about $50,000 (Once asked about his family in Philadelphia, Hemsley simply replied, “I’m from Philly, but El Paso is my home now and Flora is my family.”).
10.) The actor’s death was not without controversy. Hemsley’s remains lay in a refrigerator for about 4 months before he was buried. This was due to the legal battle for his body and his estate between his will’s beneficiary, Flora Isela Enchinton, and Richard Thornton, the man who claimed to be his brother. On November 9th, 2012, Judge Patricia Chew granted custody and right over both to Flora Enchinton. Hemsley was given a military funeral for his years of service in the U.S. Air Force and was buried in Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso, Texas on November 21, 2012.
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