Today, actor Sherman Helmsley died of natural causes at age 74 at his home in El Paso, Texas. Helmsley is famous for playing the wise-cracking George Jefferson on the iconic show The Jeffersons, which ran for a decade from 1975-1985.
The Jeffersons, itself a spinoff of All In The Family was not the first show to represent African American life on television – Amos & Andy was aired twenty years before – but it was the first to make it so real and relatable. The Jeffersons was about an African American family living in luxury, which came as a result of George Jefferson’s hard work. It conveyed that the American Dream really is meant for everyone, and it did so through normalizing the African American family. George Jefferson and his family were not entitled or special, they were normal – and successfully so.
“[T]o air a show that featured realistic, contemporary African American life, which in itself belied tired stereotypes, further awakened the country to the reality of population diversity,” David Weigand of the San Francisco Gate wrote today.
The beloved character of George Jefferson – a devoted husband and testy neighbor, among other things – lived well beyond the end of the show. In the years after The Jeffersons went off air, Helmsley carried his character into televisions shows like Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Sister Sister.
Helmsley made his mark again and again, and will be survived by his powerful legacy.
– Ben Sherman and Christina Lewis