ACTOR Sherman Hemsley, who rose to fame in the 1970s as the wise-cracking father in the hit sitcom The Jeffersons, has died at the age of 74.
The Jeffersons was one of the longest-running US television shows with a predominantly black cast. It focused on how the family adjusted to its newfound affluence after the success of a dry-cleaning business.
Hemsley and the Jeffersons –– Isabel Sanford played his wife –– often dealt with contemporary issues of racism, but more frequently reveled in the TV comedy archetype of a short-tempered, opinionated patriarch trying, often unsuccessfully to control his family.
The show explored serious themes such as race and class –– and Hemsley’s character George Jefferson was a notable bigot who did not like the interracial marriage of his neighbours in the upscale Manhattan apartment.
Despite the character’s many faults –– money-driven, prejudiced, temperamental, a boar –– Hemsley managed to make the character endearing as well, part of the reason it stayed on the air for so long.
“He was a love of a guy” and “immensely talented,” said Norman Lear, producer of The Jeffersons.
Although he retired from television acting, Hemsley joined Sanford through the late 1990s and early 2000’s to reprise their roles as George and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson on guest spots.