Hemsley remembered by friends, family at funeral
Pallbearers carry Sherman Hemsley's remains into Cielo Vista Chuch in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, nearly four months after his death. Friends and family are remembering actor Sherman Hemsley at his funeral service in Texas by showing video clips of his best known role as George Jefferson on the TV sitcom "The Jeffersons." He died in July but a fight over his estate has delayed his burial. (AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie) EL DIARIO OUT; JUAREZ MEXICO OUT; AND EL DIARIO DE EL PASO OUT
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.
Flora Enchinton Bernal releases a white dove during a graveside service for actor Sherman Hemsley, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 in Fort Bliss, Texas. Friends and family remembered Hemsley at his funeral service in Texas by showing video clips of his best known role as George Jefferson on the TV sitcom "The Jeffersons." He died in July but a fight over his estate has delayed his burial. (AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie) EL DIARIO OUT; JUAREZ MEXICO OUT AND EL DIARIO DE EL PASO OUT
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."