07/24/2012 07:32 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT

The Jeffersons' Sherman Hemsley dies

Sherman Hemsley, the American actor who played George Jefferson, first on All in the Family and later on the TV show The Jeffersons, has died. He was 74.

A Hemsley representative said the actor died in El Paso, Texas.

"Sherman Hemsley has been pronounced dead, El Paso Sheriff's Department has confirmed," the actor's agent Todd Frank said in a statement.

All in the Family creator Norman Lear had crafted the George Jefferson role for Hemsley, then a Broadway actor. Hemsley did not at first want to move into TV, but eventually took the role of neighbour to the Bunker family.

As George Jefferson, he refused to set foot in the Bunker household because of Archie Bunker’s bigoted views. However Jefferson, a dry cleaning entrepreneur, was also frequently rude and opinionated.

The Jeffersons spinoff sitcom was one of Lear’s biggest successes, running 11 years. Its barbed humour about racial politics eventually gave way to character-driven family humour. After the show was cancelled in 1985, a Broadway show of The Jeffersons appeared, with most of the original cast.

Hemsley also made appearances as Jefferson on E/R, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and more recently House of Payne.

Hemsley was born and raised in South Philadelphia and served four years in the Air Force. When he moved to New York, he worked in the post office by day and became an actor at night, eventually landing a role in Purlie on Broadway.

His other big TV roles included tyrant B.P. Richfield on Jim Henson’s Dinosaurs and Deacon Ernest Frye on Amen.