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His wife, Weezie, was often his foil - yet provided plenty of zingers as well.
Despite the character's many faults - money-driven, prejudiced, temperamental, a boar - Hemsley managed to make the character endearing as well, part of the reason it stayed on the air for so long.
“The Genius of George Jefferson” was originally published at July 27, 2012.
As ABC broadcasts a reboot of Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons on May 22, 2019, EBONY shares this commentary on the impact this character has had on Black culture and portrayals of African-Americans in media.
"He was a love of a guy" and "immensely talented," said Norman Lear, producer of The Jeffersons and All in the Family, after learning of his death.
"When the Jeffersons moved in next door to the Bunkers, I wanted to deliver the George Jefferson who could stand up to Archie Bunker," Lear recalled Tuesday.
In the case of those folk who worked on television sitcoms, they were further limited by the conventions of the format, which rarely lent itself to depth and nuance.
Hemsley's feisty, diminutive father with an exaggerated strut was a kind of black corollary to Archie Bunker - a stubborn, high-strung man who had a deep dislike for whites (his favorite word for them was honkies).
Yet unlike the blue-collar Bunker, played by Carroll O'Connor, he was a successful businessman whose was as rich as he was crass.
George Jefferson is not the sum total of Hemsley’s legacy, but there are few that can claim a character as recognizable.
Mark Anthony Neal is a Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African & African American Studies at Duke University.
Bunker was a lunch-pail wage earner, while Jefferson was a self-made businessman who would eventually own a chain of dry-cleaners.