Behind many notable television careers is a theater background, and
Hemsley appeared in a number of New York stage productions with the ensemble, where he studied under Lloyd Richards. The actors performed with the Urban Arts Corps, another New York company, and in various off-Broadway and regional shows.
It was while appearing in the Broadway musical "Purlie" that Hemsley was cast by TV producer
"The Jeffersons" ran from 1975 to 1985.
Here's the full Times obituary on Hemsley.