Michael Jonas Evans (November 3, 1949 – December 14, 2006) was an American actor, best known as Lionel Jefferson on both All in the Family and The Jeffersons.
Evans was born in Salisbury, North Carolina. His father, Theodore Evans Sr., was a dentist, and his mother, Annie Sue Evans, a teacher. He attended Palmer Memorial Institute, a private school for young black Americans in Sedalia, North Carolina, just outside Greensboro. His family later moved to Los Angeles, where he graduated from Los Angeles High School. He studied acting at Los Angeles City College.
A college student majoring in drama but with no acting experience, Evans caught his big break when All in the Family producer and director John Rich hired him to play Lionel Jefferson, the son of the Bunkers’ new black neighbors. Show developer Norman Lear preferred Cleavon Little for the role, but Rich lobbied to cast an actor who would appear less threatening. Evans continued to play the role on the spinoff The Jeffersons, but left after the first season to pursue other aspects of his career. According to Jimmie Walker, Evans had threatened to leave if he was not given more screen time, and Norman Lear let him out of his contract. Actor and opera singer Damon Evans (no relation to Michael) then took the role of Lionel, but Mike Evans returned in the role for the sixth through eighth seasons.
Evans was also one of the creators and writers of the series Good Times (1974–79).
Evans played Lenny in the cast of the 1976–1977 Danny Thomas situation comedy The Practice during its second and final season.
Evans was also a real estate investor and owned properties in California’s Inland Empire.
Actress Berlinda Tolbert who played Evans’ wife, Jenny, on The Jeffersons is just one day younger and they were also both born in North Carolina.
Personal life and death
In July 1974, Evans met Helena Jefferson (June 18, 1952 – September 11, 2002). They married on January 10, 1976. On September 11, 2002, Evans lost his wife to breast cancer after she was diagnosed on February 24, 2001. Four years after her death, Evans died of throat cancer at his mother’s home in Twentynine Palms, California, at the age of 57. He is survived by his two daughters, Carlena and Tammie, his mother Annie Sue, his brother Thomas, his cousin Harold and his niece Chrystal.
|1971–1975||All in the Family||Lionel Jefferson||Main cast (33 episodes)|
|1972||Killer by Night||Marley||Television film|
|1972||Call Her Mom||Wilson||Television film|
|1972||Now You See Him, Now You Don’t||Henry Fathington||Feature film|
|1972||Love, American Style||Jerome Wilson||“Love and the Perfect Wedding” segment|
|1973||Voyage of the Yes||Orlando B. Parker||Television film|
|1974||The House on Skull Mountain||Phillippe Wilette|
|1974||The Streets of San Francisco||Paul Hudson||Episode: “For Good or Evil”|
|1975||Far Out Space Nuts||Episode: “Galaxy’s Greatest Athlete”|
|1975–1985||The Jeffersons||Lionel Jefferson||Main cast (34 episodes) (final appearance)|
|1976||Rich Man, Poor Man||Arnold Simms||Television miniseries|
|1976–1977||The Practice||Lenny||Main cast (13 episodes)|