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“The Jeffersons” star Sherman Hemsley has died at the age of 74.
The actor passed away at his home in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday. He died at his home according to police sources. No cause of death was reported pending autopsy results, but no foul play is suspected, police said.
Born in Philadelphia, Hemsley got his break in show business in the early 1970s, making his Broadway debut in a production of the play “Purlie.”
It was during his stage stint that he caught the eye of TV writer and producer Norman Lear, who reached out to Hemsley and asked him to star as George Jefferson in the sitcom “All in the Family.”
Hemsley was reluctant to quit the theater and held off on the role for two years before taking Lear up on the standing offer.
Although Jefferson was just a secondary character on the show, Hemsley’s comedic timing convinced Lear to develop a spin-off series titled “The Jeffersons” in 1975, allowing the actor to really shine on camera.
The program became one of Lear’s most successful projects and remains the longest-running sitcom with a predominantly black cast in U.S. TV history, airing from 1975 to 1985, lasting 11 seasons and 253 episodes. As the patriarch of the series, Hemsley charmed audiences with his cocky strut and readiness with brash verbal zingers.
“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 would go on to many other television roles, notably as Deacon Ernest Frye in the late-’80s sitcom “Amen.” Hemsley most recently reprised the role of George Jefferson on the TV series “House of Pain” last year. Hemsley’s other TV credits include the 1980s show “Amen” and the puppet series “Dinosaurs,” while he also made guest appearances on Will Smith’s TV hit “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
He also enjoyed a stint as a professional singer and released a single in 1989, titled “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”
Hemsley rose to fame on the sitcom “All in The Family,” from which “The Jeffersons” was spun off in 1975.
Overall, “The Jeffersons” racked up 11 Emmy nominations, with Hemsley receiving Best Actor nominations from 1981 to 1985. (His co-star, Isabel Sanford — who played his wife Louise, affectionately referred to as “Weezy” — would take home an Emmy in 1981. She died in 2004 at 86.)