Hemsley was born and raised in South Philadelphia by his mother, who was a factory worker. He dropped out of school and joined the Air Force, where he stayed for four years. When he left the Air Force, he moved back to Philadelphia where he worked for the Post Office during the day while attending acting school at night. He then moved to New York, continuing to work for the Post Office during the day while working as an actor at night. He starred as the character Gitlow in the early 1970s Broadway play, Purlie.
Hemsley joined the cast of NBC's Amen in 1986 as Deacon Ernest Frye, an unscrupulous church elder much like his Jefferson character. The show enjoyed a run of five seasons, ending in 1991. Hemsley then was a voice actor in the ABC live action puppet series Dinosaurs, where he played Bradley P. Richfield, Earl's sadistic boss. The show ran for four seasons, ending in 1994.
Since Dinosaurs' cancellation, Hemsley has largely retired from television acting, although he and Isabel Sanford reunited in the late 90's and in the early 2000s, reprising their roles in guest spots on television programs such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and commercials for Old Navy and Denny's. They continued to work together in piecemeal fashion until Sanford began having health problems leading to her death in 2004.
My first memory of Sherman Hemsley is as the main character of Amen. I used to watch it with my parents back when we were all living in a one bedroom apartment. Years later I remember watchin all the Jefferson re runs. Watching a Half bald black man as the owner of a dry cleaners who hated white people was hilarious to me. I can remember how he treated Florence, the maid played by Marla Gibbs and he treated her so mean but it was funny as hell. Sherman Hemsley has always been one of those people that was funny tome without even trying. Just seeing him on screen was good enough for me lol. He's been away from Tv for a while, but I'm still a big fan.