Sherman Alexander Hemsley (February 1, 1938 – July 24, 2012) was an American actor and comedian best known for his role as George Jefferson on the CBS television series All in the Family and The Jeffersons, Deacon Ernest Frye on the NBC series Amen and B.P. Richfield on the ABC series Dinosaurs. For his work on the The Jeffersons, Hemsley was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. He won a NAACP Image Award.
Hemsley was born and raised in South Philadelphia by his mother, who worked in a lamp factory. He did not meet his father until he was 14.He attended Barrat Middle School, Central High School for 9th grade and Bok Technical High School for 10th, when he dropped out of school and joined the United States Air Force, where he served for four years.
On leaving the Air Force, he returned to Philadelphia, where he worked for the United States Postal Service during the day while attending the Academy of Dramatic Arts at night. He then moved to New York, continuing to work for the Post Office during the day while working as an actor at night. He starred as "Gitlow" in the early 1970s Broadway musical Purlie.
Sherman Hemsley performed with local groups in Philadelphia before moving to New York to study with Lloyd Richards at the Negro Ensemble Company. Shortly after, he joined Vinnette Carroll's Urban Arts Company appearing in these productions: But Never Jam Today, The Lottery, Old Judge Mose is Dead, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, Step Lively Boys, Croesus, and The Witch. He made his Broadway debut in Purlie and toured with the show for a year. In the summer of 1972 he joined the Vinnette Carroll musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope ensemble in Toronto, followed a month later in the American Conservatory Theater production at the Geary Theater. In this production Hemsley performed the solos "Lookin' Over From Your Side" in Act I and "Sermon" in Act II.
While Hemsley was on Broadway with Purlie, Norman Lear called him in 1971 to play the recurring role of George Jefferson in his new sitcom, All in the Family. Hemsley was reluctant to leave his theatre role, but Lear told him that he would hold the role open for him. Hemsley joined the cast two years later. The characters of Hemsley and co-star Isabel Sanford were supporting occasional roles on All in the Family, but were given their own spin-off, The Jeffersons, two years after Hemsley made his debut on the show. The Jeffersons proved to be one of Lear's most successful shows, enjoying a run of 11 seasons through 1985.