Tuesday, July 24, 2012

So Long, Mr. Jefferson

George and his beloved Weezy

RIP Sherman Hemsley 1938-2012

For over a decade (1975-1985), Sherman Hemsley breathed George Jefferson to life. The veteran television and stage performer, best known for portraying the iconic Mr. Jefferson—a character that he'd almost become synonymous with, sadly passed away today at the age of 74. When I think of Sherman Hemsley, I remember the way he used his voice on screen (man, could he project) and the way he moved. George Jefferson didn't walk, he strutted. He was larger than life in every way. The barbs he traded with maid Florence were legendary. Like many who grew up watching The Jeffersons in the 70s and 80s, the theme song gave one more than pause for thought. The times they were a changing. How a hopping theme song could subtly capture a changing America in just a minute is beyond me. It made me want to sing at the top of my lungs. The melody was pure joy and has lost nothing all these years later (see clip below).

Since his passing, there have been many lovely tributes to Sherman and his George. A piece by Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly caught my eye in particular. Here are a few passages (read the whole piece, it's lovely):

"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. . .

You can credit producer Norman Lear for helping to conceive the character, first in All in the Family and then as a spin-off in The Jeffersons, but it was clearly Hemsley’s performance that fueled its power. Hemsley had come up through the theater, in straight dramas as well as musicals (he came to George Jefferson initially fresh from a run in the raucous, Ossie Davis-derived Broadway musical Purlie), and Jefferson brought a rhythmic musicality in the way George moved onscreen. His erect posture conveyed George’s pride, his perpetually affronted expression was a mask against the injustices, correctly perceived or imagined, by George; his harsh voice was the sound of a man who would not be denied his place in the world. Watching George Jefferson was to witness a man comfortable in his own skin — and that that skin was black was significant."


  1. Very nice, Chelly. Sherman sure will be missed. Did you know that in real life, he was more than 20 years younger than his tv-wife Louise? (But you never would've guessed it, they always seemed so right for each other!)

    Growing up we never missed The Jeffersons--Sherman made my dad laugh like none other, they were like part of the family.

    1. Thanks so much Doug. Wow, I didn't know that Sherman was 20 years younger than Isabelle. Would never have guessed it. They did indeed seem right for each other. Thank you for sharing that great memory of your dad. Sweet. The Jeffersons was a show my family watched together also. When my dad found a joke to be funny, he would howl with laughter like a mad man. :)

  2. Funny, I never forgot the theme song by heart, but I had forgotten Weezy wiping away tears of happiness in the cab and then George strutting as they walk into the lobby of their "high rise apartment in the sky." What a great show and theme song!

    Doug, I did not know that about the age difference--really interesting! I agree, they did make a good on-screen TV couple.

  3. And another pop icon fades to black.

    He really was pretty funny. Oh yeah the strutting. Gives you a laugh every time. :)


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