We're just losing Classic TV stars left and right.
Yesterday it was Sherman Hemsley.
This news was both surprising and sad as I had grown up watching reruns of The Jeffersons. His George Jefferson was blustery and hot-tempered, but he loved his wife Weezy (the late Isabel Sanford) to no end and would do anything for her.
He turned out to be perfect for the role. Perhaps that is why Norman Lear held it for him when he proved unavailable during the first couple of seasons of All in the Family in the early 1970s.
In a TV Legends interview in 2002, Sanford recounted the first time she met Hemsley. With mild disgust she said something along the lines of, "That little man is supposed to be my husband?"
It was a role that both rewarded him and pigeonholed him throughout his lifetime. While he was a legend among several generations of fans, it was all most people saw him. Most of his appearances since the show was cancelled in 1985 were as George Jefferson (on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and most recently Tyler Perry's House of Payne). Until her own death in 2004, he appeared with Sanford in commercials for Denny's and Old Navy.
Even his Ernest Frye character on Amen (1986-1991) had clear shades of George Jefferson.
Despite his stellar career, he only garnered one Emmy nomination -- in 1984 as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He lost to John Ritter, who won for the final season of Three's Company. Earlier this year, however, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
So iconic is the George Jefferson character that when people ask me why I don't grow my hair out, I respond by saying, "If I do, I'll have a full-on George Jefferson". No matter who it is, they know exactly what I'm talking about.
I apparently share some of the characteristics of George Jefferson (short, black and loud), so "Sherman Hemsley" briefly became a nickname of mine in college -- bestowed upon me by some really tall and quiet lighter-skinned black guys.
Years ago, I learned the George Jefferson Walk. I pull it out at random for my own amusement and/or that of whoever may see me doing it.
I found a clip of an extended version of the closing theme to The Jeffersons, as sung by Ja'net Dubois. It's slightly more haunting than the equally iconic opening theme. I couldn't embed it because the person who uploaded it inexplicably disabled that feature. Regardless, I offer it up as a tribute to Sherman Hemsley.
I also offer up a VERY random photo I came across while I was searching for a picture of Hemsley and Sanford. To me, it speaks to the broad appeal of The Jeffersons much in the same way the Full-On George Jefferson and George Jefferson Walk speak to that character's enduring appeal.
RIP Mr. Hemsley. Say hello to Miss Izzy for us.