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The Deadly Diagnosis of Paul Benedict (Harry Bentley on the Jeffersons)

Fans of The Jeffersons might remember actor Paul Benedict as Harry Bentley. Although he wasn’t exactly a member of the Jefferson Family, he’s particularly hard to forget about given his distinct physical attributes. He certainly was their most unforgettable neighbor.

Sure, he had his own signature aesthetic going on but something was wrong. Both Benedict and his doctors were completely unaware that he was actually suffering from a debilitating physical ailment but if left untreated, Benedict could have faced an untimely death

If it weren’t for an eagle-eyed fan in the audience at one of his stage performances and their helpful suggestions, he might not have learned about his rare glandular disease until much later.

Today we’re going to share with you Paul Benedict’s astounding story, but make sure you keep watching to find out where the rest of The Jefferson’s cast ended up after the series came to an end in 1985.

Paul Benedict’s Role As Harry Bentley Wasn’t Exactly A Creative Choice

Sometimes unique physical attributes help a character to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Identifying traits can help differentiate one character from another while other times those idiosyncrasies morph into being an extension of their personality.

For Paul Benedict, the latter was definitely the case. His character Harry Bentley was known for his very pronounced nose, jaw, hands, and feet.

Benedict’s body started growing that way while he was still in High School. It wasn’t just the fact that he was tall. It seemed as if his extremities were all growing at an alarming rate. In addition to his abnormal growth patterns, Benedict also started experiencing agonizing headaches that made it very difficult for him to focus.

Both his headaches and the unusual bodily growth plagued him for many years. Doctors were, unfortunately, unable to determine what was causing his headaches until much later in his life. It wasn’t until he was in his thirties that a specialist showed up in Benedict’s life unexpectedly out of the blue and helped him to figure out what was going on with his hormones.

Narrowing Down The Cause

Like most other TV actors, Benedict spent a lot of time acting on stage with theatrical productions before and after finding success on television. In 1964, Benedict landed a co-starring role with the Theatre Company of Boston. While performing one evening, an audience member in attendance penned a short note and gave it to one of the ushers in hopes that it would find its way to Benedict.

The note arranged for the actor and the audience member to meet up after the performance. After the curtain call, Benedict met with the attendee in the lobby of the theater. The guest revealed that they were a radiologists. He also inquired whether Benedict had ever met with an endocrinologist because he believed he might be suffering from acromegaly.

Acromegaly is defined as a hormonal disorder that causes its sufferer’s pituitary glands to produce excessive levels of growth hormones during adulthood. That would account for Benedict’s towering stature and exaggerated features. The face, feet, and hands of an individual afflicted with acromegaly typically undergo intense changes producing numerous other symptoms including splitting and chronic headaches.

After suffering from this condition for over two decades, Benedict finally was able to meet with a specialist that was able to stop top the progression of the disorder with a brief 20-minute procedure. If only he had discovered the solution to his problem twenty years sooner.

Paul Benedict’s Death And Legacy

Benedict was found dead of natural causes on December 1, 2008, in his home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He was 70 years old when he passed.

As an actor, Benedict used his unique features to his advantage. He often played batty characters in films like ‘The Goodbye Girl’ in 1977 and ‘The Man with Two Brains’ in 1983. You can’t bring up his name without being reminded of his role as the bad-tempered judge in 1991s ‘The Addams Family’.

He was also good friends with filmmaker Christopher Guest and starred in a number of his films including ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ in 1984, ‘Waiting for Guffman’ in 1997, and ‘A Mighty Wind’ in 2003.

On the iconic children’s program Sesame Street, Benedict had a recurring role as the Mad Painter – a character who manically painted numbers everywhere.

Pay No Attention To That English Accent

Don’t let his accent confuse you. Benedict wasn’t even close to being British. In fact, he grew up in Silver City, New Mexico. He was the youngest of six children. His father was a doctor and his mother was a journalist.

Benedict knew from an early age what he wanted to do with his life. When he just 5 he went to the movies for the first time. From that moment onward he was completely convinced that he wanted to be an actor when he grew up.

Benedict attended Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied theater. He started acting when he joined the Theatre Company of Boston, a production company that boasts names like Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino as three of its prestigious alums.

On Broadway, Benedict got the chance to work alongside Al Pacino in Eugene O’Neill’s two-man play “Hughie” in 1996. In 2000, he played the mayor in the revival of ‘The Music Man’.

Benedict was also a successful stage director. He could take a newly developed play or a work in progress and infuse it with warmth, sympathy, intelligence, and humor.

His first big break as a director was in 1987 with ‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune’. He followed that production up with ‘The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives’ in 1989. Both plays garnered Benedict a lot of good press and became of-Broadway hits.

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And make sure you keep watching the rest of this video. We’re about to reveal to you what the rest of The Jefferson’s cast ended up doing after the show came to a close in 1985.

What Happened To The Rest Of The Jefferson’s Cast

Franklin Cover played Tom Willis. Cover was a mainstay on the show and was always the perfect comedic foil to George. After the series wrapped up, Cover went on to guest-star on a number of other TV shows. He was also handed a supporting role in 1987s Wall Street. Some of his other film credits include roles in The Stepford Wives in 1975, Brain Donors in 1992, and Almost Heroes in 1998. After a brief battle with pneumonia, Cover passed away in 2006 at the age of 77.

Roxie Roker – Helen Willis

Roker had a pretty long and successful career in the entertainment industry but one of her biggest accomplishments was bringing Lenny Kravitz into the world. Not many people can say that they’ve had the chance to raise such a talented individual. Unfortunately, Roxie passed away in 1995 after battling with breast cancer.

Marla Gibbs – Florence Johnston

Gibbs is still alive and kicking. She might be 89 but she hasn’t even come close to retiring. She still regularly stars in films and TV shows. Some of her most recent credits include Madea’s Witness Protection in 2012, Grantham & Rose in 2015, and Station 19 in 2018. In addition to being an accomplished actress, Gibb’s is also a distinguished singer. She has released a number of musical albums over the years.

Sherman Hemsley – George Jefferson

Obviously, George Jefferson is clearly Hemsley’s best-known role and the one that really ended up defining his career, but he went on to guest-star In numerous movies and television shows as well. It was always rare to hear anything about his personal life – which he preferred to keep private – but we do know that he never married or had any children.

Hemsley dropped out of high school to join the Air Force. After that, he worked as a mailman for a number of years before he got his big break as an actor. Hemsley undoubtedly provided the comedic backbone to the Jeffersons. The show wouldn’t have been the same without him.

Sadly, Hemsley passed away in 2012 shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Isabel Sanford – Louise Jefferson

She was affectionately nicknamed ‘Weezy” while on The Jeffersons – and arguably she was one of the best parts of the show. Not only did she constantly keep George in check but she was entertaining to watch on her own. A lot of people tuned in every week just to see her fiery personality.

Isabel’s career wasn’t confined to just one show either. She started acting in the late 60s and continued on as an actress until her passing in 2004. She guest-starred on dozens of shows and even a decent variety of movies as well.

In 1981, she became the second black actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award, and she’s the only black actress to ever win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. For her contribution to the world of television, Sanford received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Re-runs of The Jeffersons can still be watched in syndication to this day. It’s the type of show that offers the viewer a nostalgic look back in time while offering up endless laughs that are timeless. It wasn’t the perfect sitcom by any means but it provided a great deal of entertainment and dealt with timely issues that were especially poignant for its era. The show touched on some controversial subject material from time to time but because of that, it was fairly groundbreaking.

But more than just being endowed with a great script and experienced production team, The Jefferson’s was lucky enough to have an all-star cast. It wouldn’t have been the same series if any of the credits were filled by any other actor or actress. The Jefferson’s found its balance organically and the chemistry shared by the cast developed naturally. You couldn’t force something like that.

Anyway, we’d love to hear from you! Which Norman Lear sitcom did you like the most, The Jeffersons, or All in the Family? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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