Cousin and others celebrate Hemsley's life

The memorial service was held as others dispute the will of the still-unburied actor.

Posted: September 23, 2012

Sherman Hemsley has been dead two months, his embalmed body in refrigeration in Texas while opposing sides dispute the actor's will.

Despite that, a different survivor on Saturday held his own memorial service for his cousin and star of the television show The Jeffersons, which ran from 1975 to 1985.

Body or not, the Rev. Michael Wells and about 30 relatives and friends celebrated Hemsley's life at Arch Street United Methodist Church at Broad and Arch Streets in Center City.

"We decided that we didn't need to wait for a body to memorialize Sherman," said Wells, a minister at Beulah Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. "We remember him, and we remember our dear memories of Sherman so well that he will not be forgotten in this family."

Wells' low-key memorial turned out to be the first for Hemsley, who died of lung cancer July 24 in El Paso, Texas.

Since then, a battle has erupted between the actor's partner, Flora Enchinton, and Richard Thornton, a North Philadelphia man who claims to be Hemsley's half-brother.

Enchinton and Thornton would not respond to calls for comment.

Thornton wants Hemsley brought home to Philadelphia but so far has been in a stalemate with Enchinton, who contends that a will dated two months before Hemsley's death makes her his sole beneficiary.

Enchinton wants Hemsley cremated and his ashes to remain in Texas.

Wells says that his mother and Hemsley grew up together in South Philadelphia, and that their grandmothers were sisters.

"My family raised Sherman practically from birth," Wells emphatically stated. "My mother helped him pay his way to New York to start acting, and we've definitely never heard of any Thorntons before."

Wells had faced some serious difficulty in staging a memorial service, with his first attempt on Aug. 16 canceled after Thornton threatened legal action. The original memorial service was to be held at Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia, but the church backed out after also being threatened with litigation.

"I assure you, we want nothing to do with his estate or his money. We just want to bury Sherman here in this area where he has a cemetery plot next to his mother," Wells said.

Wells also asserts that Enchinton, who claims to have never heard about any Hemsley relatives, is lying.

"I talked with her on the first of June," Wells said. "I have the phone records to prove it. She never let me get a chance to talk with Sherman, but she knows he still had family back in Philadelphia."

To those who doubt his own relation to Hemsley, Wells points to the personal items at the memorial service, including a rare photograph of the actor in his Air Force uniform.

"The truth is going to come out soon," said a confident Wells. "There's been all this controversy being played out in the news and all we wanted to do here was bury him with respect. It has not been easy on my family losing Sherman."


Contact Joe Trinacria

at 215-854-2771, jtrinacria@phillynews.com.

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