EL PASO, Texas (AP) — 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 couldn't help but laugh as they watched the clips of Hemsley playing the feisty, bigoted owner of a chain of dry-cleaning businesses on "The Jeffersons."
"He helped us to laugh, gave us an opportunity to forget the troubles, the stresses of life," El Paso Police Department chaplain Sam Faraone said during Hemsley's eulogy.
Hemsley, an Air Force veteran, was buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
"The best way I can describe it is by how we released a dove" at the burial, longtime friend Flora Enchinton Bernal said after the Fort Bliss ceremony. "Just set him free, let him be. Let him explore the universe, be one with the universe."
She was named as Hemsley's heir in his will, but the late actor's 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 1970's "Purlie," a musical adaptation of Ossie Davis' Jim Crow-era play "Purlie Victorious." (Hemsley would later star in a 1981 made-for-TV version of "Purlie" 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 "All in the Family."
Hemsley joined that show in 1973, immediately catapulting himself from an obscure theater actor to a hit character on the enormously popular show. Two years later, his George Jefferson character from "All in the Family" became the lead on the spin-off "The Jeffersons."
The Jefferson character was devised, Hemsley said, as "pompous and feisty."
"All of it was really hard … because — rude, I don't like to be that way," Hemsley said in a 2003 interview for the Archive of American Television. "But it was the character, I had to do it. I had to be true to the character. If I was to pull back something, then it just wouldn't work."
Robert Almonte, the U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas who also was a friend of Hemsley, said during the funeral that the actor was "a down-to-earth man" and "didn't like to be seen as George Jefferson." He said Hemsley was completely different from that character.
"That's how great an actor he was," Almonte said.
After "The Jeffersons" was canceled, Hemsley starred as fiery Philadelphia church deacon Ernest Frye in the sitcom "Amen" from 1986 to 1991.
He frequently turned up as a guest on sitcoms including "Family Matters" and "The Hughleys." He even landed a voice role in "Family Guy."
Hemsley twice reprised the George Jefferson role — on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and last year on "House of Payne."
In the later years of his life, he moved to El Paso in West Texas and made it his home. Almonte said he once asked Hemsley about his family in Philadelphia and the actor said: "I'm from Philly, but El Paso is my home now and Flora is my family."
Enchinton Bernal said after four months of fighting to have her beloved friend Hemsley buried, she is looking forward to having a peaceful Thanksgiving. She said she will "set a plate on Sherman's position, where he used to sit."
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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