Mike Evans, the actor who portrayed Lionel Jefferson on the TV series "All In The Family" and "The Jeffersons," passed away at the age of 57 years old following a short-lived career.
The late star was born in Salisbury, North Carolina in 1949, son to father Theodore Evans Sr., who made a living as a dentist, and to mother Annie Sue Evans, who worked as a school teacher.
Although he was born in North Carolina, Mike eventually moved with his family to Los Angeles, California, where he decided that he wanted to try his luck in show business, having studied acting at Los Angeles City College.
Mike Evans and other cast members of "The Jeffersons" circa 1974 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons
While he was still in college trying to make his dream come true, John Rich, the producer, and director of "All in the Family" hired Mike to play the role of Lionel Jefferson, which was quite surprising considering that he had no acting experience.
That didn't stop him from doing a fantastic job in front of the cameras and winning over the audience. He was not a crucial part of the show by any means, but he was still considered to be an important member of the cast.
Mike Evans and other cast members of "All In the Family" in August 1975 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In 1975, a spin-off of the series titled "The Jeffersons" was created, and Mike kept on portraying Lionel. Although he was supposed to play a more significant role with more screen time, he left after the first season.
But he didn't waste any time finding a new project and found himself working behind the cameras in "Good Times," the show which he helped create and started writing for.
Franklin Cover, Paul Benedict, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Ned Wertimer, Berlinda Tolbert, Roxie Roker, Isabel Sanford, and Mike Evans from "The Jeffersons" in 1975 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
While the actor was away from the Jeffersons, Damon Evans, who starred in the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Broadway's "Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope," replaced him between the second and fourth seasons.
Mike absolutely refused to believe that he was Harris' biological father.
According to him, he wanted to educate America in the sense that Lionel was a black married man who was working on his masters and was ready to have a family, which was something America hadn't seen yet.
In 1979, Mike came back for one more season, but eventually left again, forcing the creators to write Lionel and his wife Jenny (played by actress Berlinda Tolbert) out of the script, claiming that they faced marital problems.
Jenny, however, became a regular guest throughout the series, unlike Lionel, who only appeared on the screen in the last two episodes of the eleventh and final season back in 1985.
Even though most people believed Mike would grow up to become one of the most famous faces in Hollywood, the truth is that those two episodes were the last time he was seen in front of the cameras.
Mike Evans and more members of the "All in the Family" cast circa 1972 | Photo: Getty Images
One could say Mike was quite successful in the entertainment industry for a little more than a decade. However, his personal life was not as good as one would believe, especially when it came to his daughter, Carlena Harris.
During a guest appearance on "The Charay Vaughn Show," Harris opened up about the cruel way he used to treat her when she was only a child, revealing that he was never involved in her life.
According to her, she was raised by her mother and grandmother, and that, shockingly, Mike absolutely refused to believe that he was her biological father.
By the time she was 13 years old, he requested a DNA test to learn the truth, and, as it turns out, he was indeed Harris' father. Unfortunately, that didn't make their relationship any better.
Publicity photo of Mike Evans during his time on "All in the Family" circa 1971 | Photo: Getty Images
Instead of apologizing for not taking care of her for years, never being there for her when she needed him the most while growing up, or even trying to make amends, the actor kept his distance. Harris said:
"I just had to live with the fact that I didn't have an earthly father who wanted me, but the thing with that is it certainly caused me to be closer to my heavenly father and got me to a point where I was content."
Mike Evans' daughter Carlena Harris | Photo: YouTube/Carlena Harris
Father and daughter stopped talking for good when she was 21 years old, and he kept on denying that he was Harris' biological father, claiming that his brother – a man that nobody ever knew – was her real dad.
Mike drew his last breath at his home his mother’s home in Twentynine Palms in 2006, as announced by his niece, Chrystal Evans, following a battle with throat cancer. While Carlene suffered a lot at his hands, she eventually forgave him.
Publicity photo of Mike Evans during his time on "The Jeffersons" circa 1975 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Years after his passing, Harris claimed that God asked her to go to Los Angeles and stay at her paternal grandmother's home, where slept in the same room that her father died in.
Not only that, but she believes that she felt his spirit asking her to save his house, which was bound to be foreclosed. Through that experience, Carlene understood that her father had finally accepted her, which drove her to forgive him.