Sherman Hemsley, who as George Jefferson ensured that black folks would never again be invisible on television, died Tuesday at his El Paso home. He was 74.
Police said Hemsley was discovered by his nurse and apparently died of natural causes. Hemsley played Jefferson for two years on “All in the Family,” from 1973-75, then starred opposite Isabel Sanford from 1975 to 1985 on their own spinoff, “The Jeffersons.” Isabel Sanford died in 2004 at age 86.
George Jefferson was not the first black character on television, but he remains one of the most indelible. Because he first played in counterpoint to Archie Bunker, and because both had the exaggerated personalities of sitcom characters, George Jefferson shared many of Archie’s traits.
He was cranky, impatient and prone to speaking without thinking — though he was also more clever and calculating than Archie.
This made him one of television’s first angry black characters, and while some of that anger was blunted with a comic edge, his legitimate frustration over America’s racial situation was hard to miss.
He became a more effective answer to Archie’s bigotry not because he was noble and perfect, but because he also had dimension, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. DAILY NEWS NY