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Sherman Hemsley, Star of The Jeffersons, Dies at 74

Sherman Hemsley Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Sherman Hemsley, whose cantankerous George Jefferson cracked up millions of faithful TV viewers each week, first going toe-to-toe with Archie Bunker on All in the Family and then sparring with his beloved Weezie on The Jeffersons, has died.

The sad news was confirmed by police in El Paso, Texas, where Hemsley lived while not working in Los Angeles. No immediate word on cause of death pending results of an autopsy, but authorities say they do not suspect foul play.

The Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor was 74.

2012's Celebrity Deaths

A Philadelphia native, Hemsley was in the Broadway play Purlie when he scored the role of noisome neighbor George Jefferson, a black-empowered character strong enough to serve as foil to Carroll O'Connor's bigoted Archie Bunker on All in the Family. The characters of George and wife Louise or "Weezie" (played by the late Isabel Sanford) proved so popular after being introduced in 1973 that they were given their own spinoff, The Jeffersons, which freatured the seminal "Movin' On Up" theme song and wound up running a decade on CBS, from 1975-85.

Hemsley remained a fixture on TV for the next two decades, most notably as Deacon Earnest Fry on NBC's hit sitcom Amen, as well as guest turns on The Love Boat, Family Matters, Lois and Clark, Family Guy, and Sister, Sister. He also voiced B.P. Richfield on ABC's animated prime-time Dinosarus.

Still, Hemsley never was quite able to shake the Jefferson persona, popping up as his iconic TV alter ego on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in TV ads for Old Navy, Dennys and Nick at Nite, and reprising the role last year in an episode of Tyler Perry's House of Payne.

Hemsley's death follows those of TV wife Sanford, who died in 2004, and Mike Evans, who played their son Lionel and died in 2006. Hemsley's favorite "honky" target Franklin Covers, who played Tom Willis, the head of the next-door interracial family, also died in 2006; while another neighbor in the deluxe apartment in the sky, Paul Benedict (aka Harry Bentley), passed away in 2008.

Hemsley himself never married and had no children.

(Originally published July 24, 2012, at 2:08 p.m. PT)

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