Lionel Jefferson

image2292436gObit Benedict

In my recent SI.com column on Tiki Barber, I made reference to Lionel from The Jeffersons appearing on the upcoming (fictional) season of The Surreal Life. This resulted in a shocking number of critical letters, insisting that I was exercising tasteless journalism, in that Mike Evans (the actor who played Lionel) has been dead for four years.

Indeed, as this obituary shows, they are correct.

Sort of.

Mike Evans was, indeed, Lionel, George and Louise Jefferson’s only son and the eventual husband of Jenny Willis, the woman who lived upstairs.* However, there were actually two Lionels. Mike Evans filled the role from 1975-78, then left for three years before returning in 1981 (when the show was sort of on its last legs). In his place, the studio hired Damon Evans, no relation, an opera singer who only dabbled in acting. Here’s his profile.

This wasn’t all that uncommon back in the 1970s and 80s, when actors came and went and, for some reason, producers simply thought the viewers wouldn’t care. I, for one, was very confused when Richie Cunningham’s older brother, Chuck, suddenly went from blond to brown hair, gained about 30 pounds and had different eye colors. And when, on the Dukes of Hazard, Bo and Luke left town and their cousins came in. The list is probably endless.

Point is, Lionel Jefferson is alive and well.

Sort of.

* Best Jeffersons episode ever: Jenny, whose father is white and mother is black, has a baby. George is pacing through the hospital, asking the nurse multiple times, “So the baby can’t be white, right? He can’t be white? Definitely can’t be white?” The nurse assures him it’s very unlikely. Commercial break—we return to find the nurse bringing a white baby toward Mr. Jefferson. “Oh, he’s white! OK, he’s white!” George says. “No,” replies the nurse. “This one’s not yours.” Says George, “Oh, thank Jesus!”

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