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‘The Jeffersons’ Cast: A Look Back at the Hilarious Sitcom and the Stars Who Brought It to Life

See what happened to these beloved 70s stars


When George Jefferson became financially successful, he moved his family — and what became The Jeffersons cast — to a “deluxe apartment in the sky” in Manhattan. So began each episode of The Jeffersons from its debut airing in 1975 until the last episode in 1985, becoming one of the longest running sitcoms in TV history with a beloved cast of characters.

The show’s famous opening theme song, “Movin’ On Up,” was sung by Ja’net DuBois and to this day, when we hear that tune, we can’t help but think of the episode when George Jefferson ran around flushing all the toilets in his apartment, signaling that his family had indeed, moved on up.

What was The Jeffersons about?

The spin-off series to All In The Family centered around George and Louise Jefferson, a prosperous Black couple who were able to move from Queens (where they lived next door to Archie and Edith Bunker) to Manhattan due to George’s successful dry cleaning chain.

Fans of Norman Lear’s All In The Family were entertained by George Jefferson’s version of the bigot Archie Bunker in many respects. Played by Sherman Hemsley, with Isabel Sanford as Louise, the sitcom tackled taboo subjects such as racism, gun control, alcoholism and more timely topics laced with humor.

Lear had commented once that The Jeffersons presented positive role models in an authentic and non-preachy way.

Marla Gibbs, Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, The Jeffersons, 1975
Marla Gibbs, Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, The Jeffersons, 1975FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Louise was the level headed and open-minded woman of the household who often had to reprimand George when his mouth got him into trouble (which was nearly every episode). For her efforts, Isabel Sanford was the first black actress to win the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Emmy Award.

Unfortunately, CBS never gave The Jeffersons a proper series send-off — In fact, Hemsley said he found out the show was cancelled by reading about it in the newspaper. Since the cast never got a chance to say goodbye, they reunited years later for a stage play based on the sitcom.

The Jeffersons cast, then and now

Here, take a look at The Jeffersons cast after they said goodbye to their deluxe apartment in the sky.

Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson

Sherman Hemsley in 1980 and 2007
1980 / 2007Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images ; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

As one of only two people to appear in all 253 episodes (the other being Isabel Sanford), the Philadelphia native born Sherman Alexander Hemsley made the world laugh as the boisterous, wise cracking, yet kindhearted George Jefferson who loved his Weezy.

Fun fact: That name of endearment didn’t come from the writers — it was inspired by a girl Sherman had a crush on in real life, whose name was Louise and he called Weezy. He asked Isabel permission to call her Weezy and she said yes.

Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford
Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford of “The Jeffersons” got into character during a break from taping a commercial for OLD NAVY at Silvercup Studios in New York, 1998 eLawrence Schwartzwald/Sygma via Getty Images

Long before George and Weezy, Sherman played different characters in school plays. When he moved to New York City after serving in the Air Force, he worked the graveyard shift as a postal clerk, acting and auditioning during the day. His determination paid off when he made his professional acting debut on Broadway in Purlie and toured with the show for a year. While on tour, he got a call from Norman Lear, who wanted him to audition for the role of George Jefferson, but Sherman had to decline due to his touring commitment. Lear kept the offer open until he could join the cast two years later.

The success of The Jeffersons spanned 11 seasons, ending in 1985, but by that point Sherman had established himself as a talented actor and worked steadily in other projects such as the lead in the sitcom Amen, which debuted in 1986 and lasted five seasons.

The Jeffersons cast in 1977
The cast of The Jeffersons, 1977 Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

With his animated voice, Hemsley took on the role of Bradley P. Richfield on the live action-puppet series Dinosaurs that ran for four seasons. Along with his TV wife, Hemsley made TV guest appearances and did commercials for brands like The Gap, Old Navy and Denny’s.

Hemsley reunited with his TV maid, Marla Gibbs, in 2011 to reprise his George Jefferson role and guest star on House of Payne. Besides acting, Hemsley was an accomplished jazz keyboardist and stepped in the musical limelight in 1989 with the release of the cover song “Ain’t That a Kick In The Head.” This was followed by an R&B album.

Hemsley died at his home in El Paso, Texas in 2012 at age 74. Known for his mustache and his animated personality, Hemsley will be remembered for bringing serious issues to his audience along with his unmistakable sense of humor.

Isabel Sanford as Louise “Weezy” Jefferson

Isabel Sanford in 1977 and 2004
1977 / 2004Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images ; Steve Grayson/WireImage/Getty Images

One of Sanford’s favorite parts of taking on the Weezy Jefferson role was that she always had the last word when it came to George — and audiences loved the banter between the two.

Born in the Harlem section of New York City, a young Isabel had dreams of being an actress. Her mother thought it a fantasy that would go nowhere, so Isabel snuck out of the house to perform in nightclubs. Yet despite winning a competition at the famed Apollo Theater, she gave up her thespian ambitions and became a cleaning woman. Then, when she was a mother to three children, Sanford worked as a keypunch operator in the NYC Welfare department — yet her dreams never vanished completely.

Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley at the TV Land Awards in  2004
Actress Isabel Sanford (left) and Actor Sherman Hemsley pick up their Favorite Cantankerous Couple awards on stage at the 2nd Annual TV Land Awards held on March 7, 2004 at The Hollywood Palladium, in Hollywood, CaliforniaKevin Winter/Getty Images

In her late twenties, her desires became a reality. She joined the American Negro Theater and in 1946 made her stage debut in On Strivers Row. Sanford was a Broadway actress for over 30 years before moving to Hollywood, where she made many TV guest appearances on shows including Bewitched and Mod Squad.

Isabel even became a supporting cast member on The Carol Burnett Show. Then came Louise Jefferson on The Jeffersons, where she made history as the first African American woman to win an Emmy.

MUST-READ: ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ Cast Then and Now: A Celebration of Laughter and Talent

Her last appearance before her passing was at the TV Land Awards with her Jeffersons co-star accepting the award for Favorite Cantankerous Couple. In July 2004, at age 86, Sanford passed away.

Mike Evans as Lionel Jefferson in The Jeffersons cast

Mike Evans, 1975
Mike Evans, 1975Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The original Lionel, Evans left the show after the first season and returned for one more season in 1980. Born in Salisbury, North Carolina, Evans says it was a fluke that he got the role on The Jeffersons at age 21.

Lionel’s calm and liberal minded stance was the perfect foil to his TV dad’s hot tempered personality. Due to Evans’ visibility on a hit sitcom, he boosted his career with TV movies such as Call Her Mom, Killer by Night and the Disney comedy feature, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. While appearing as Lionel, Mike and his writing partner co-created, and were writing for, another Lear sitcom, Good Times, which was a spin-off of Maude.

MUST-READ: ‘Good Times’ Cast Then and Now: Catch Up With the Evans Family!

So all -consuming was his double duty for Lear that Mike began making fewer appearances as Lionel. In fact, he left the role completely in 1975 to focus on his writing career. After the cancellation of Good Times, Mike took back his role in 1979, but left again in 1981 for good. Stepping away from showbiz, Mike put his efforts into the lucrative Southern California real estate market. Sadly, he died of throat cancer in 2006 at age 57.   

Damon Evans as Lionel Jefferson in The Jeffersons cast

Damon Evans, 1976
Damon Evans, 1976Bettmann / Getty Images

No relation to Mike Evans, Damon took over the role of Lionel until halfway through the fourth season. Born in Baltimore, Evans attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts on a Reader’s Digest Scholarship and, after graduation, attended the Boston Conservatory of Music and became an accomplished opera singer.

While in Boston, he appeared in productions such as Hair and The Corner. Off Broadway credits include Bury the Dead, Love Me, Love My Children, with his Broadway debut in The Me Nobody Knows. He also toured as Judas and Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar. Damon also portrayed the young Alex Haley in the smash TV miniseries Roots: The Next Generations. He still delights audiences in a wide range of theatrical and musical performances.

Roxie Roker as Helen Willis in The Jeffersons cast

The Jeffersons Cast: Roxie Roker in 1975 and 1993
1975 / 1993 Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images ; Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

Roker played Helen Willis, one part of an interracial couple whose daughter Jenny was dating and later married Lionel.

Roxie was born in Miami and is best known for The Jeffersons. She also appeared in ABC Afterschool Specials and Fantasy Island (1977). When she auditioned for her role in the sitcom, the producer thought audiences wouldn’t believe she was married to a white man, so Roxie brought out a family photo with her real-life husband, Sy Roker, who was white. She was immediately cast.

As Helen Willis, she and white actor Franklin Cover broke barriers by becoming the first interracial couple on primetime TV. Roxie is also Lenny Kravitz’ mom and would often bring him to the set of the show. Roker passed away in 1995 in Los Angeles.

Franklin Cover as Thomas Willis in The Jeffersons cast

The Jeffersons Cast: Franklin Cover, 1977
Franklin Cover, 1977Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Forever known as Tom Willis, George Jefferson’s next door neighbor, Cover appeared in several feature films: Wall Street (1987), The Stepford Wives (1975) and Almost Heroes (1998). Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he began his career on the stage acting in Hamlet and Henry IV, making his TV debut on Naked City, and later on The Jackie Gleason Show.  

His final TV appearance was on an episode of Will & Grace in 1999. As with his other Jeffersons co-stars, Cover heard about the sitcom’s cancellation while watching Entertainment Tonight. He died in Englewood, New Jersey in 2006 from pneumonia.

Marla Gibbs as Florence Johnston in The Jeffersons cast

The Jeffersons Cast: Marla Gibbs in 1995 and 2024
1985 / 2024 Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images ; Greg Doherty/Getty Images for MUAHS Awards

Originally intended as a recurring cast member, the character became an immediate favorite with fans, so the producers made her a series regular. As Florence, the Jeffersons’ sharp tongued maid, Gibbs received five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy.

Born Margaret Bradley in Chicago, Gibbs moved to Los Angeles in 1963, not for the dream of becoming an actress, but to recuperate from an ulcer. She began working at the United Airlines reservation desk and first acted in local black theater before she got her first acting job in Sweet Jesus, Preacher Man.

Florence Johnston came to her in 1975, but she continued her airlines job just in case the sitcom didn’t last — she gave up her United Airlines job after the second season. The success of The Jeffersons and Florence Johnston gave her entrée to a starring role in Checking In, the short-lived spinoff of The Jeffersons.

LeVar Burton and Marla Gibbs in 2024
Marla Gibbs (R) and LeVar Burton present a lifetime achievement award for hair styling to Ora T. Green at the 11th Annual MUAHS Awards at The Beverly Hilton on February 18, 2024 Greg Doherty/Getty Images for MUAHS Awards

Florence was like my aunt and grandmother so I lived it,” she once told Broadway Showbiz about her character. “She came easy to me, so I’m like Florence in giving smart answers, but I was also shy so I wouldn’t have dared to say some of the things Florence said.”

In the sitcom 227, adapted from a play, Gibbs was the lead actress. She had a number of supporting film parts and guest starring roles throughout her career: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, Judging Amy and ER, among others.

Tyler Perry cast her in Madea’s Witness Protection (2012). Ten years later, Gibbs had a recurring role as Olivia Price on daytime’s Days of Our Lives. Besides acting, Gibbs was an accomplished singer and, from 1981 to 1999, owned Marla’s Memory Lane Jazz Club in South Central, L.A.

She also released a number of albums. For all her efforts and contributions to show business, Gibbs was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame In 2021.

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