He began his career on stage in New York, and got his first Broadway role in 1971 in “Purlie” before “All in the Family” creater Norman Lear cast him as George Jefferson, the next door neighbor to racist Archie Bunker. That role led to the successful spin-off on CBS.
After “The Jeffersons” ended, he again found television success as Deacon Ernest Frye in “Amen,” which ran on NBC from from 1986 until 1991.
Besides television, Hemsley appeared in such films as “Love at First Bite,” “Stewardess School,” “RECOiL” and “Jane Austen’s Mafia.”
He never married and had no children.