Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘All in the Family’: There Was Once a Court Battle Over Sherman Hemsley’s Remains

‘All in the Family’: There Was Once a Court Battle Over Sherman Hemsley’s Remains

All in the Family star Sherman Hemsley was the center of a years-long court battle after he passed away in 2012. 

The George Jefferson actor passed away on November 21, 2012. The 74-year-old had been suffering from lung disease. At the time of his death, he had been living with his best friend and business manager, Flora Enchinton Bernal. One month before passing, he named Bernal his estate’s sole beneficiary. So when he died, she planned on burying him near his home in El Paso, TX. However, it took months for Hemsley to be laid to rest and years for the location to be declared his final resting place—because his half-brother believed he had rights to the actor’s remains. 

In 2014, The Hollywood Reporter shared the story behind the legal dispute. According to the publication, the problems began the day Sherman Hemsley died. When his body arrived at the morgue, the medical examiner looked through the actor’s phone to find his next of kin, which happened to be Richard Thronton. Hemsley and Thornton shared a father. 

Unaware of Hemsley’s will, the medical examiner released the actor’s remains to Thornton, who made the decision to send the body to Pennsylvania for burial. Bernal immediately blocked the plans by filing an application to probate the will. Thornton contested by arguing that Hemsley wasn’t in his right mind when he wrote the will. The judge sided with Bernal, and she laid her friend to rest in Texas as planned. Thornton didn’t take the ruling kindly, however. He kept the case in court from November 2012 until November 2014. 

Sherman Hemsley’s Brother Fought the Ruling for Two Years

Richard Thornton had people who knew Sherman Hesmley before his cancer diagnosis testify that he was not of sound mind when he wrote his will. Lawyers also noted that Bernal was not related to the actor. And because the will did not specify where Hemsley wished to be buried, she had no right to decide. Thornton asked to have Hemsley’s body relocated. Bernal’s lawyers responded by saying because Thornton failed to block the decision before his brother was buried, the argument was moot. 

On November 12, 2014, the Court of Appeals for the 8th District of Texas reviewed the case. A judge finally decided that Sherman Hemsley would stay in Texas. To this day, the iconic star rests at an El Paso cemetery.

“We conclude that Bernal’s exercise of the right effectively extinguished any right which the Thorntons might have had to control disposition of the remains,” wrote the court. “Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the Thorntons are correct that they, rather than Bernal, had the right to determine the disposition of the remains, our decision could not have any practical legal effect on the existing controversy because interment has already taken place.”