[UPDATE - August 31, 2012] In July I wrote about the death of my old friend, Sherman Hemsley. I regret that I have to update this post with an article from CNN. As a preface, Sherman hated cold weather. You'll find my remembrances, a video of Sherman, and a photo or two following this update.
(CNN) -- Sherman Hemsley's body lies in an El Paso, Texas, funeral home refrigerator more than a month after his death while a court decides who gets the actor's remains.
A Philadelphia man claiming to be the "Jeffersons" actor's brother is challenging a will Hemsley signed a month before his death, according to the funeral home handling his arrangements.
"It is disgraceful," Hemsley's longtime partner Flora Enchinton told CNN affiliate KVIA-TV. "It is sad. This was a man with dignity."
The will signed by Hemsley on June 13, 2012, a month after he was diagnosed with cancer, named Enchinton as executor and left his entire estate to her, according to court papers.
Hemsley's embalmed remains are kept in a refrigerator at San Jose Funeral Home in El Paso awaiting a court order allowing burial or with instructions on who should be given the body, funeral home employee Renny Dosier said Thursday.
A spokeswoman for the El Paso County Probate Judge Eduardo Gamboa declined to comment about the case.
Enchinton, who said she lived with Hemsley at his El Paso home for the past decade, told KVIA-TV that the dispute gives her a "very ugly feeling, very desperate feeling that I feel inside."
"The emotional thing is you wake up thinking he's still frozen out there," she said.
Contrary to what Enchinton said, Hemsley's body is "embalmed under refrigeration," not frozen, Dosier said.
The man who claims to be Hemsley brother is asking for custody of his remains and possessions.
"I have never heard of a so-called brother named of Richard Thornton in the 20 years I have known Sherman," Enchinton said. "This is not what Sherman would have wanted."
"Sherman left very worried about me, about me staying alone, what was going to happen to me, being alone if he was gone. That's what worried him the most. I guess maybe he sensed what was going to happen. It just gives me these emotions and feelings (that) all of a sudden there's these people that have never known anything about our life, about who we are, about what we're all about, about what we endured," Enchinton said about the validity of her role in Hemsley's life being questioned.
Hemsley played George Jefferson, a wisecracking owner of a dry cleaning business, on "All in the Family" from 1973 until 1975, when the spinoff "The Jeffersons" began an 11-season run on CBS.
Hemsley also played Deacon Ernest Frye in the sitcom "Amen."
Way back in the mid-70s when I was hired to work for the Norman Lear companies, I knew that I was—to use an absolutely appropriate phrase here—walkin' in high cotton.
My first office was on the studio lot at MetroMedia Square. Across the hall from me, and running down the hall, were the table-reading rooms for many of the great Lear sitcoms of the day.
Almost directly across from my office door was the door to the Jeffersons' reading room where the cast would assemble and—weekly—read new scripts aloud with the writers, the director, and other creative types.
The door just to the north of the Jeffersons was the door to the men's room where I first met All in the Family's Caroll O'Connor. (But, that is another story for another day.)
First or second week on the job ... I walked out of the men's room, heard my phone ringing, and crossing the hall, I almost ran Sherman down. Seeing him, I let my phone ring.
Apologizing for our near collision, I said, "I loved you on Broadway, Mr. Hemsley."
"Broadway? You saw Purlie?"
"Three times, Mr. Hemsley," I replied. I stuck out my hand to shake his.
He said, "Purlie tickets were expensive. You saw it three times?" He smiled with that impish grin of his. "Call me Shermie."
And, he hugged me.
After that we became quick friends and whenever we saw each other—in the halls of MetroMedia, in the parking lot, or on the street—we'd yell out, "Hugs!" and we'd hug each other. I cannot tell you how sweet and funny those moments were for us and how startling for some of the on-lookers.
Sherman Hemsley was such a gentleman and such a gentle human being—I adored him. I will miss the man forever. And,I will leave you with one of his songs from the Broadway production of Purlie.
Skinnin' a Cat, Shermie—Purlie, on Broadway
Postscript: My mom came, from Kansas, to visit me a year-or-so after I started working for Lear. I introduced her to Sherman and he was lovely and gracious, and he moved forward to hug her. My mom took a step back and shook his hand.