According to his agent, Todd Frank, the actor died at his home in El Paso. Police say there is no evidence of foul play and they are waiting on an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Born in 1938, Hemsley was a native of Philadelphia. He paid his way through drama school by working at the post office. The actor moved to New York in pursuit of his acting career.
From 1971-1973 the George Jefferson character was only known by references from his onscreen wife Weezy (Isabel Sanford). Hemsley first appeared on TV as George when he officially joined the All In The Family cast in 1973.
In 1975 Hemsley “moved on up to The East Side” for the spinoff, The Jeffersons. Where he and Weezy portrayed an African American couple who’s dry cleaning business allowed them to jump to a higher economic class. They even had their own maid (Marla Gibbs).
The Jeffersons ran for 11 seasons during which Hemsley was nominated for lead actor in a comedy in 1984. He was later cast in NBC’s Amen, where he played the schisty Philly preacher Deacon Ernest Frye.
After Amen was cancelled in 1991, Hemsley went on to do voice overs for the animated series Dinosaurs and was a regular on UPN’s Goode Behavior until it was canceled after one season in 1996.
He would later be seen in guest-starring roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, both in which he played the beloved George Jefferson character.
Former co-star Gibbs said she was shocked to hear he had died.
“I thought Sherman was doing very well. I am saddened to hear that Sherman has made his transition. We were trying to come up with a new show that we could participate in, but of course, that cannot happen now. Sherman was one of the most generous co-stars I have ever worked with. He happily set me up so that I could slam him, and I did the same for him. I shall miss him deeply.”
Tyler Perry also recalled the time he worked with Sherman Hemsley on House of Payne commented on how the actor affected his life.
“I had the pleasure of working with him on ‘House of Payne. He brought laughter and joy to millions. My childhood would have been a lot sadder without him. Thanks for the joy, thanks for your talent and thanks for your life. I celebrate it in all of its beauty. God bless you, Mr. Hemsley.”