Mike Evans, Original Lionel Jefferson, Dead at 57
Actor Mike Evans, best known as Lionel Jefferson in the TV sitcoms “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons,” has died. He was 57. Evans died of throat cancer December 14 at his mother’s home in Twentynine Palms, said his niece, Chrystal Evans.
Evans, along with Eric Monte, also created and wrote for “Good Times,” one of the first TV sitcoms that featured a primarily black cast.
Michael Jonas Evans was born November 3, 1949, in Salisbury, North Carolina. His father, Theodore Evans Sr., was a dentist while his mother, Annie Sue Evans, was a school teacher. The family moved to Los Angeles when Evans was a child.
He studied acting at Los Angeles City College before getting the role of Lionel Jefferson in 1970s situation comedy “All in the Family.” Evans kept the role of Lionel when “The Jeffersons” launched in 1975. The hit show was a spinoff featuring bigoted Archie Bunker’s black neighbors in Queens who “move on up to the East Side” of Manhattan. Evans was replaced by Damon Evans (no relation) for four years, then he returned to the series from 1979 to 1981.
He also acted in the 1976 TV miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man” and made guest appearances on the TV series “Love, American Style” and “The Streets of San Francisco.” His last role was in a 2000 episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
In recent years he had invested in real estate in Southern California.
Not only is 57 far too young to die, it’s surprising that it took a week for the news to get out considering Evans’ stature. “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” were iconic shows and “Good Times” was a pop culture sensation during its day.
For some reason, although we watched “Good Times” during its run (the show was itself a spin-off of “Maude,” which was another spin-off of “All in the Family”) I never made the connection that Evans was the fellow who had played Lionel Jefferson. I didn’t know until reading this story why he had left the cast of “The Jeffersons” only to return four years later; the gap coincided with the run of “Good Times.”