Under a cloudy, gloomy sky, actor Sherman Hemsley was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery Wednesday afternoon.
Doves were released and military personnel played "Taps" in honor of Hemsley, who served in the Air Force for four years.
"Emptiness. I feel very empty," said Flora Enchinton-Bernal, Hemsley's best friend, manager and partner. "Sad but happy at the same time that he's at peace where he should be resting. He found peace here so he's gonna be at peace, definitely. Not just in El Paso but the whole world, he loved the whole world and the world loved him back."
Hemsley died July 24 from complications due to lung cancer but a four-month legal battle over his will and estate kept him from being buried until Wednesday.
A white hearse carrying Hemsley's body arrived at Cielo Vista Church shortly after noon. Several pallbearers, including El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, then carried the flag-draped coffin into the church for the funeral service that included video of some of Hemsley's classic TV moments.
"I didn't know him at all," Allen said. "He was a supporter of law enforcement. The flag on that coffin is the other reason I'm here. He dedicated some of his life to service of this country and I think that deserves recognition."
About 150 people attended the church service. The chaplain presiding over the service said "death is not the end. Sherman is 'movin' on up,'" a pun on the lyric from the theme song to "The Jeffersons."
Hemsley's burial and memorial services had been put on hold while a man, Richard Thornton, claiming to be Hemsley's half-brother, contested a will written by Hemsley one month before he died.
DNA tests did show Thornton is Hemsley's half-brother but the results were not allowed in court because the deadline to turn them in was missed by a week. The presiding judge also said the results were not relevant to the disposition of the body.
In the will, Hemsley left everything he owned to Enchinton-Bernal, whom he referred to in his will as his "beloved partner."
An El Paso judge ruled Hemsley's will was valid in November, therefore the disposition of his body and his estate reside with Enchinton-Bernal.
Thornton did not attend any of the services for Hemsley.
"I not only invited him at the court house when we had that. We invited everyone. That's the reason why we made it public," Enchinton-Bernal said.
David Carrillo, a Vietnam veteran, attended the funeral service at the church.
"I'm here because he's a veteran and I'm a very big fan of his and I've always been a big fan," Carrillo said.
Dr. Robert Hemphill saw Hemsley in a store the week before he died but didn't bother him because Hemsley is a private person.
“I've always wanted to ask him to come to my church to sing because I'm a musician at my church. I just never had that opportunity to do so but he was one of my favorite actors,” Hemphill said.
Hemphill called the character, George Jefferson and the show “The Jeffersons” groundbreaking.
“It was the first time I remember a black person wealthy and owned a business, the cleaners,” Hemphill said. “But he was a down to earth person. He did not seem like a big Hollywood type but a person that was approachable.”
Rashad Poitier also stopped by the funeral home to pay his respects.
“I didn't know him personally but I enjoyed his television show, enjoyed reading about him,” Poitier said. “He reminded me of my father, growing up watching the show and everything. It was good entertainment with lessons learned.”
Poitier said a person learned how to act as a person and how to conduct yourself from the characters on “The Jeffersons.”
About Hemsley finally being laid to rest, Almonte, a U.S. Marshal, said "it feels so good... I'm so happy for her, for his spirit, his friends and family that they finally have closure today. After four months of the unknown his wishes were fulfilled finally being able to rest in peace here in El Paso, the city he loved so much with the people he loved so much."
"It was important for us, as Mr. (Robert) Almonte can tell you, to say 'enough already. Let's put him to rest,'" Enchinton-Bernal said. "This went on for four months already so Robert Almonte told me the most beautiful thing. He says 'you know Flora, Wednesday would be a beautiful time to put him to rest. It's the day before Thanksgiving, so come Thanksgiving we have a reason to be thankful' and he was absolutely right."
Enchinton-Bernal said Hemsley will be missed at the Thanksgiving table.
"We always had Thanksgivings together but it's okay. His table setting is going to be there and I know that spiritually he's going to be there."