The star of the memorable 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons is, as in the show’s unforgettable theme song, “movin’ on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky.” Sherman Hemsley, who played the irascible but lovable patriarch George, died July 24 at 74. The hugely popular 11-season series about an irrepressible black family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side provided an amusing, thoughtful look at the era’s racial tensions. Hemsley assured fans he was nothing like the combative curmudgeon he played. “I don’t slam doors in people’s faces, and I’m not a bigot. I’m just an old hippie. You know — peace and love,” he said in 1996. Before his television and Broadway career, Hemsley served in the Air Force, then studied acting by night while working for the post office.
This text originally appeared in the Aug. 6, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.
Next Celeste Holm