Louise and George Jefferson were one of the most popular couples of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Played by Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley, the Jefferson couple came from the sitcom All in the Family. They launched their own successful TV show, The Jeffersons.
The sitcom worked so well partly due to the chemistry between Sanford and Hemsley. But did they date in real life?
The Jeffersons’ story began in All in the Family. They played the next-door neighbors of All in the Family‘s lead couple the Bunkers. The audience responded so well to the Jeffersons that All in the Family creator Norman Lear decided to give them their own show.
The Jeffersons follows the now-wealthy George, Louise, and their son Lionel as they move from Queens to Manhattan after becoming successful. George is presented as a cocky business owner. But his efforts pay off when his dry cleaning store becomes a success, allowing them to move to a high-rise and afford a maid.
While The Jeffersons was largely a traditional sitcom, it occasionally highlighted topics such as racism, alcoholism, gun control, and adult illiteracy. The series is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. It ran for 11 seasons from 1975 until its sudden and controversial cancellation in 1985.
Sanford, who played Louise, started on All in the Family before Hemsley. Initially auditioning for Louise’s sister, Sanford landed the role of Louise. A season and a half into the show, she was introduced to her future decade-long onscreen husband. But Sanford wasn’t pleased.
Sanford told the Television Academy Foundation in 2002: “I looked at this little man that I could have squashed like a bug. I don’t see how John [Rich] could think we would make a great-looking couple,” she added. It also didn’t help that Sanford was 21 years older than Hemsley, old enough to be his mother.
Hemsley, on his part, noticed Sanford’s disdain, saying, “She expected a big guy. That’s what she told me later. Then she saw me and at that time I weighed about 135 pounds.” The actor said Sanford “had a big mouth” and felt sorry for him.
However, they grew closer as the show continued. By the time they landed their spinoff, Hemsley and Sherman were pretty inseparable. Their chemistry as a married couple was so believable that many thought Hemsley and Sanford dated in real life.
However, the couple never dated despite both being single throughout the filming of The Jeffersons. Sanford said in the interview that Rich had made the right decision, since “the world has been hitching us together ever since.”
Sanford and Hemsley, unfortunately, both have passed away. Sanford died in 2004 of natural causes at 86, and Hemsley died in 2012 from superior vena cava syndrome at 74. Their onscreen neighbors and the mixed-race couple played by Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker died in 2006 at 77 and in 1995 at 66 respectively.
Mike Evans, one of the two actors to play Lionel Jefferson, died in 2006 of throat cancer, four years after his wife Helena Jefferson’s death. His onscreen wife, Berlinda Tolbert (the Willis’s daughter), and the Jeffersons’ housekeeper played by Marla Gibbs (91) are the only two surviving cast members of the original cast.
Damon Evans, who played the second Lionel, and Jay Hammer (the Willis’s son) are also alive today aged 73 and 78 respectively.
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