Why you never saw Mike Evans in anything else

The actor who played Lionel on how acting fit into his life.

If there was one character with the potential to threaten Archie Bunker's worldview, it was Mike Evans' Lionel Jefferson. He was just so incredibly likable. Look at that smile! Lionel's personality constantly forces Archie to contend with his nastiest beliefs, as his polite, unflappable nature upends everything Archie ignorantly thinks he knows. 

There is such a natural charm to Mike Evans' portrayal. Lionel comes across as a real person. He's effortless. Rather than an actor playing a role, Evans seems like a young man who actually happened to move in next door. Part of that has to do with Evans' inherent skills as an actor, but the rest is due to his background.

Here's a little information for the trivia hounds: Mike Evans got the role on All in the Family in a really interesting way. He didn't have any real acting experience before he landed the role of Lionel. He was a drama major, and he was hitchhiking his way to class when a talent agent happened to pick him up. A few days later, that agent secured Evans the part on All in the Family.

However, by the time Evans was in his mid-twenties, he was already looking forward to retiring from acting. 

"Acting is something that is profitable," Evans told The San Francisco Examiner in '73. "And it's something I don't mind doing. Believe me, I'd rather starve to death than wash cars or work at a grease rack."

But as far as long-term goals were concerned, acting just didn't fit into Mike Evans' plans.

"When I'm 30, I want to settle down for good on a ranch with a horse."

Here's the interesting part: He pretty much stuck to his word. Mike Evans stepped away from the All in the Family spin-off The Jeffersons after that show's first season. He focused his attention instead on Good Times, a series he created to be produced by Norman Lear. It was made in direct response to Evans' uncredited rewrites on All in the Family scripts, where he was constantly asked to make his lines more natural for a young black man.

While he returned briefly as a recurring star for The Jefferson's eighth season and again as a guest in the last year it was on the air, Mike Evans stopped acting in other shows when The Practice wrapped in 1977. His heart wasn't in it. He married, raised his daughters, and lived happily ever after far away from the Bunkers. 

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12 Comments

JERRY6 5 months ago
a talented actor , he came across as so natural on the show , glad he got to live his dream . To bad it was cut short
tootsieg 6 months ago
I always looked forward to seeing Mike
Evans’ Lionel on the show. He was so funny and added so much to the character. His comments and smile were priceless. Glad he got to live his dream.
Pacificsun 6 months ago
Nice to know he worked hard to gain a comfortable lifestyle and family life. Yes, it was clear to see how talented he was back in the day. Good writing and story premises always stood out to fans of those Series!

Thanks MeTV writers for another interesting article! Kind of in the "where are they now category." Except that was a long time ago.
McGillahooala 6 months ago
He was a great actor. Good for him for choosing a different life.
Runeshaper 6 months ago
It’s good that Mike had a plan and figured all of this out at a young age.
cperrynaples 6 months ago
Sadly Mike died a few years ago! Surprizingly, the biggest compliment he got was from John Amos, even though he left midway through Good Times!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 6 months ago
Did he leave, or was he written out? Didn't they want to put more focus on Ester Rolle. As a single mother (head of the household) and like many of the struggling households familiar to their core viewers. Of course they also wanted to give more lines, and screen time to Jimmie Walker. A very big draw and talented comic in the day.

I could be wrong, but will say that TV Guide in the day, provided a lot of background about programs. Not gossip, but well founded.
CatBeau cperrynaples 6 months ago
Yes, Mike Evans died of throat cancer on December 14, 2006. 😔 Can’t believe it’s already been 17 years. He was only 57 years old.
frances3agape CatBeau 5 months ago
Too bad.
He lived his life on his terms AND obviously lived his dream
Jerryfan Pacificsun 5 months ago
They fired Amos. He had a falling out with the shows producers and the killed off his character. John Amos and Norman Lear did make up years later.
Fred_Clampett 6 months ago
Lionel Jefferson! The master of the back-handed compliment. He could have given Marie Barone a run for her money.
Yep, his Archie zingers were great, especially when he suggested the Harlem Globetrotters should be 88% white!
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