'Jeffersons' star Sherman Hemsley, 74, got his start in theater

'Jeffersons' star Sherman Hemsley, 74, got his start in theater
Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford in the TV sitcom "The Jeffersons." (Los Angeles Times)

Behind many notable television careers is a theater background, and Sherman Hemsley, who died this week at 74, was no exception. The star of the long-running CBS sitcom "The Jeffersons," Hemsley got his start on the stage, including studying at the Negro Ensemble Co. in New York.

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 Norman Lear for "All in the Family." It would be the start of a long association with Lear, who later created  "The Jeffersons," an "All in the Family" spinoff.

"The Jeffersons" ran from 1975 to 1985.

Here's the full Times obituary on Hemsley.