Sherman Hemsley dies: Which role did he long to play?

Sherman Hemsley, who was found dead Tuesday in El Paso at the age of 74, gained fame as the cantankerous George Jefferson on “All in the Family” and its spinoff “The Jeffersons.”

But he had one role he wanted to play before the end of his career: Willy Loman.

“He wanted to do ‘Death of a Salesman,’” said veteran director Oz Scott, who directed 40 episodes of “The Jeffersons.” “I spoke to him about a year and a half, two years ago, and he said he had this last dream, to do ‘Death of a Salesman.’ We had a few talks about doing it.”


Added Scott: “Sherman was an actor first. He came out of the theater. It would have been really interesting for this guy who was known as George Jefferson to play that role.”

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Scott said that Hemsley was always professional. Sometimes he felt typecast by the role of George Jefferson, and there was one lean year when he could not get hired. But then he got the starring role in “Amen,” an NBC comedy that ran from 1986 to 1991.

His last regular TV series was “Goode Behavior,” a comedy on the defunct UPN that ran for one season in 1996. Hemsley played a crafty ex-con who is ordered to live with his estranged son (Dorien Wilson), a college professor, as part of his probation.

“Sherman was not at all like the George Jefferson character,” said Sharon D. Johnson, a story editor on the series.

“He was not brazen. On the contrary, he was a little shy,” she said. “He was very approachable, he loved kids and he was always very professional. He wasn’t afraid to be funny, but he wanted to be much more than that.”


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