Friends and family remembered actor Sherman Hemsley at his funeral Wednesday in Texas by showing video clips of him as George Jefferson, the TV role that was his best known.
About 150 people attended the service at Cielo Vista Church in El Paso. Hemsley, 74, died of lung cancer on July 24, but a fight over his estate delayed his burial.
Mourners couldnât help but laugh as they watched the clips of Hemsley playing the feisty, bigoted owner of a chain of dry-cleaning businesses on âThe Jeffersons.â
âHe helped us to laugh, gave us an opportunity to forget the troubles, the stresses of life,â El Paso Police Department chaplain Sam Faraone said during Hemsleyâs eulogy.
Hemsley, an Air Force veteran, was buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
âThe best way I can describe it is by how we released a doveâ at the burial, longtime friend Flora Enchinton Bernal said after the Fort Bliss ceremony. âJust set him free, let him be. Let him explore the universe, be one with the universe.â
She was named as Hemsleyâs heir in his will, but the late actorâs half-brother from Philadelphia, Richard Thornton, challenged it. An El Paso judge ruled the will valid earlier this month.
Sherman Alexander Hemsley was the son of a printing press-working father and a factory-working mother. He served four years in the Air Force and worked for eight years as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service.
Having studied acting as an adolescent at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began acting in New York workshops and theater companies, including the Negro Ensemble Company. For years, he kept his job at the post office while acting at night, before transitioning to acting full time.
He made his Broadway debut in 1970â˛s âPurlie,â a musical adaptation of Ossie Davisâ Jim Crow-era play âPurlie Victorious.â (Hemsley would later star in a 1981 made-for-TV version of âPurlieâ as well.) It was while touring the show that Hemsley was approached by television show producer Norman Lear about playing a character on the sitcom that would become âAll in the Family.â