This article is a part of my Melanin Arts series, which is dedicated to the achievements and contributions of artistic people of color.
Berlinda Tolbert is alive and well, but she isn't very active in the acting community. Before The Jeffersons, Tolbert had guest starring roles on popular television shows of the day like Sanford and Son, That's My Mama, Mannix, and Fantasy Island.
After The Jeffersons ended, she continued her guest starring stint on shows like Amen, Jake and the Fatman, 7th Heaven, ER, and Six Feet Under. She also had roles in the films Goodfellas (1990) alongside Samuel Jackson and Harlem Nights (1989) with Eddie Murphy.
Berlinda Tolbert's last film project to date was a role on a powerfully dramatic short story called Just Another Man's Wife in 2013. At the time of this writing, she is 68 years old. She still looks great!
Michael Jonas Evans was an unknown actor at the time he was cast on The Jeffersons. Iconic TV producer Norman Lear initially wanted famed black actor Cleavon Little to play the role, but the director wanted to go with an actor who wouldn't steal so much of the spotlight from the two veteran lead actors. The character of Lionel was a supporting role, and Cleavon Little was already a bona fide Hollywood star.
A little known fact about Mike Evans is that he was one of the writers and creators of Good Times. In fact, the character Michael Evans, played by actor Ralph Carter, is loosely based off of Mike Evans' real life. You can clearly see that he and the character share the same name.
After The Jeffersons left the air, Evans retired from acting and he pursued a career as a real estate investor. He lost his wife Helena to cancer after more than two decades of marriage in 2002.
On December 14, 2006, Mike Evans lost his own battle to cancer as well. The actor left behind two daughters and legions of fans who will always remember him as "The Original & Best Lionel."
Damon Evans is the actor who temporarily replaced Mike Evans in the role of Lionel Jefferson. Just about everyone who watched the show will tell you that there was a dark period on the show when the original Lionel was replaced with a second Lionel.
Much like the second Darren and original Darren from Betwitched, no one liked this change of actors. It's a shame, because I'm sure Damon Evans was a nice guy. It's just that viewers were used to and loved Mike Evans as Lionel Jefferson, and we never even tried to like Damon Evans.
It's worth mentioning that, just like second Darren and original Darren from Bewitched, both sets of Lionel Jefferson actors shared a common name (Dick York and Dick Sargent from Bewitched and Michael Evans and Damon Evans from The Jeffersons— see, you thought I was crazy, didn't you?) However, Mike and Damon were not related, and altough I haven't researched it yet, I'm pretty sure Dick and Dick weren't related either.
So, here's what happened. Original Lionel, Mike Evans, decided to leave the show after the second season. Damon Evans took over the role and he stayed for two years in seasons three and four—this was the dark period. Thankfully, Mike Evans decided to return midway during season four, so all was well again.
As for Damon Evans, he was known mostly to the theater crowd, where he had roles in the Broadway musicals Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and Jesus Christ Superstar. He also played a young Alex Haley in the ABC TV miniseries Roots: The Next Generations.
After Damon left The Jeffersons in 1978, he went on to appear in the 1985 film Turk 182. He also had a couple of guest starring roles in television series. Damon Evans is thankfully alive and well at the time of this writing, but outside of a spot on Living in TV Land as himself, he has been absent from the acting scene for the last 18 years.
Bonus Feature: Catching up with Ebonie Smith (Jessica Jefferson) from The Jeffersons
Ebonie Smith is the former child actress who gave life to the character Jessica Jefferson on The Jeffersons. Jessica was the child of Lionel Jefferson and Jenny Willis Jefferson.
Ebonie was only around eight years old when she appeared on the show, and she was there for the last year. Most of us remember her because she was as cute as she could be, but she really didn't have much of a role to dive into.
After the show ended, she went on to guest star in an impressive amount of shows like Webster, Gimme a Break!, Family Matters, and Living Single. She also had a recurring role as Danny Glovers' character's daughter, Carrie Murtaugh, in the Lethal Weapon franchise with Glover and Mel Gibson.
Indeed, Ebonie Smith is alive and well. Although she doesn't really act any longer, I did find her through her YouTube channel. She is a NYC-based studio producer and a champion of LGBT rights. Go Ebonie!
Alisa Fuller on October 20, 2019:
Wow I know the 1st Lionel passed away Rest In Peace Mike, and I always thought that the 1st and the 2nd Lionel wasn’t related and did y’all know that the 2nd Lionel is from Baltimore that is so cool, and you know mike Evans and Ralph Carter did the good times show were producers of the show so awesome.