Sherman Hemsley

Active - 1963 - 2014  |   Born - Feb 1, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States  |   Died - Jul 24, 2012   |   Genres - Comedy

Share on

Biography by Sandra Brennan

Sherman Hemsley is best remembered for playing George Jefferson, the lovably pompous, diminutive loud-mouth who made a fortune from his dry cleaning business and moved from Queens to a posh Manhattan high rise in The Jeffersons, a popular sitcom that ran for ten years on the CBS network. Before becoming an actor in the late '60s, Hemsley worked for the U.S. Post Office. He started out on the New York stage where his first break came from playing Gitlow in the Broadway musical Purlie (1970). Television producer Norman Lear was impressed by Hemsley's performance and so created George Jefferson for him. Originally designed as an African-American alter ego/foil to his blustery, bigoted Archie Bunker character on the smash hit All in the Family, Hemsley's George became so popular that he and his family were given their own series in 1975.

Following the series' demise, Hemsley played an egotistical, loud-mouthed deacon/lawyer at the First Community Church of Philadelphia who tried to keep the new minister, Reverend Gregory, from taking over what he viewed as his personal domain, on Amen. The series broke ground by being the first hit sitcom centered on religion and ran from 1986 to 1991. In between his series work, Hemsley occasionally played supporting roles in feature films after making his debut playing Rev. Mike in the comedy Love at First Bite (1979). Most of his subsequent films were low-budget affairs such as Stewardess School and Club Fed; he also continued to appear frequently on television as a guest star and starred in such failed series as Townsend Television (1993) and Goode Behavior (1996-1997), but never quite recaptured the success he had during the '70s and '80s. His final small-screen appearance came in 2006 when he was a cast member on the sixth season of the reality TV show The Surreal Life. Hemsley died at age 74 in late July, 2012.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Served in the U.S. Air Force, then worked for the post office for eight years.
  • After moving to New York, studied acting with director Lloyd Richards at the celebrated Negro Ensemble Company.
  • Made his Broadway debut playing Gitlow in the musical Purlie (1970).
  • Hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976.
  • Released an R&B album in 1992 titled Dance
  • Appeared in a series of ads for Denny's and Old Navy with Isabel Sanford, his costar on The Jeffersons