Sherman Hemsley, the man who brought George Jefferson to vivid life, has died at age 74. The accomplished stage actor achieved his widest fame in a role he raised to comic greatness: George Jefferson, the egotistical, strutting centerpiece of The Jeffersons.
Hemsley took a part that could have been clownish and exaggerated — George Jefferson, the braying entrepreneur striving to, as the show’s theme song said, “move on up” — and made George a vivid, three-dimensional character, and an important advance in the depiction of black characters in sitcoms. George’s ego and selfishness were often brought into line by his wife, Isabel Sanford’s Louise Jefferson (George’s beloved “Weezy”), but the force of the character derived from the tremendous ambition, frustration, and anger George felt toward the world.Hemsley went on to other roles. He was a rascal church deacon in the sitcom Amen; he provided the voice for an imperious character in the puppet sitcom Dinosaurs. These were, in a sense, variations on George Jefferson, who will live and rant and remain lovable and admirable forever.