Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Sunday, August 12, 2012

R.I.P. Sherman Hemsley

I loved Sherman Hemsley.  I know my fascination with The Jeffersons was not something that was limited to my house alone.  Black folks (and white folks) around the country tuned in every week to see George and Weezy living the high life in their deluxe apartment in the sky.  The show spanned an entire decade, airing originally in 1975 and lasting an almost unprecedented ten seasons to 1985. 

I loved all of the predominately black cast shows that were playing at the time, including Good Times, What’s Happening, That’s My Mama.  Each show was amazing to me for different reasons.  However, The Jeffersons was the only show that showed an African-American family that was wealthy financially.  Looking back, George Jefferson may metaphorically have been our Barack Obama.  Though a fictional character, he was that man that showed many young Black kids that with ambition, determination and hard work you really can be anything that you want to be in this country.  Because of The Jeffersons, we realized that the kids in my neighborhood could  aim for more than pimp, pusher and NBA player.
I also loved the show for the many controversial issues it introduced to the black community.  We were forced to think about interracial relationships, transgender issues, and  gender roles just to name a few.  In the course of their ten years they were never afraid to bring non-traditional issues to the forefront, making folks think about the status quo and question its validity.
Upon viewing the final episode of The Jeffersons, I thought my time being entertained (and educated) by Sherman Hemsley was over.  And then came his television show Amen.  As a kid that grew up in the church, this was a show that I immediately connected with.  Deacon Frye was an unconventional churchman.  He loved his church and he loved his family; but although a deacon he was not a man that wanted to spend all of his time (or all of his money) on his congregation.  Again Sherman Hemsley was ahead of his time.  This pre-Tyler Perry sitcom was the first time America got such a frequent peek into the situations, lives, and rituals of the Black church.
On July 24 we lost Sherman Hemsley.  Initially it was said he died of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.  Now it has been revealed that Lung Cancer was the reason for his death.  Whatever the reason I am saddened by this loss.
I have recently seen many blogs and articles questioning whether Sherman Hemsley was a member of the same-gender loving community.  Was Sherman Hemsley gay?  Now that he’s gone we will never really know. When Nell Carter died she willed custody of her children to her lesbian lover.  When we lost Sally Ride, her company acknowledged  that she was survived by her partner of 27 years.  For these individuals, their homosexuality was confirmed upon their demise.  For Sherman Hemsley there are no children to tell the story of his personal life.  There is no surviving partner to speak of his final days.  Sherman Hemsley’s private life will remain exactly that, private.
I personally would love to claim Hemsley as a member of our community.  He was an unparalleled talent that has left a legacy a phenomenal work for us to enjoy.  I understand the power of the closet.  If we knew that George Jefferson was being played by an out gay black man, would his show have been as successful as it was for ten years?  If we knew Sherman was homosexual would Hollywood have ever allowed him to play a deacon in Black church on Amen?  The closet may have been one of the greatest tools Hemsley used in sustaining his career.  But just like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of the tootsie pop, the world may never really know the answer to this mystery.  What I do know for certain is that he made me laugh and I will never forget him.

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