The actor, who passed away at his home in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday at 74, first won over our hearts with his appearance on All in the Family in the role that would define his career. George Jefferson's popularity would later earn Hemsley his own spin-off, The Jeffersons.
While the 1976 show undeniably broke new ground for African-American actors during its 10-year run, the Golden Globe-nominated star confessed he wasn't thinking about making history when he scored the job. It was the first TV show for the stage actor, and back then, he says his thoughts were primarily focused on his next paycheck.
"I thought I was gonna get beat up a lot of times," he told ET in an interview, adding that he sometimes feared "somebody would catch me in the street and just punch me in the mouth because of the way I talked."
After The Jeffersons, Hemsley continued to score choice roles, including guest spots on Family Matters, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and, most recently, Tyler Perry's House of Payne.