July 25, 2012 Update: Officials with the El Paso Medical Examiner's Office on Wednesday said Sherman Hemsley died of natural causes and no autopsy would be done. They added that Hemsley had been ill but did not elaborate.
Previous story from July 24, 2012: To most of America and much of the world, he was Mr. Jefferson.
Around Sherman Hemsley's East El Paso neighborhood, he was known simply as Mr. Sherman.
Hemsley, 74, was found dead Tuesday morning in his home by his nurse. Foul play is not suspected.
It was difficult for his neighbors not to say his name without smiling.
"He was like one of the family," one neighbor said.
Neighbors said they remember the famous actor strolling the sidewalks on his way to buy groceries or get a quick bite to eat.
"They really adored seeing him and they used to eat with him at Primo's," another neighbor said. Primo's is now called Rick's after a change in ownership.
"He was always like 'hey Rick, how ya doin' Rick?" owner Ricardo Maese said. "My first reaction was (that) I know him from 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air,' because that's what I grew up with back when i was a little kid."
Hemsley was often spotted either walking to or from Rick's restaurant.
"He would buy a chocolate cake, a bacon cheeseburger, and french fries," Maese said.
And while Maese had Hemsley's order down-pat, it wasn't as easy for the TV star to transition to Primo's new name when he left behind a handwritten message.
"When I got it, he decided to sign the wall, but he put it under Primo's," Maese said, recalling that he told Hemsley it was going to be called Rick's. "He said he was sorry and asked if he should change it, and I said no, keep it how it is."
Maese said he's happy to have Hemsley's name stick on the wall, even if the establishment it's addressed to doesn't exist anymore.
U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte first met Hemsley in 2000 when he was with the Texas Narcotic Association and he heard Hemsley was living in El Paso.
Hemsley dropped by the conference and they became friends since then.
“He was a really nice guy,” Almonte said. “A lot of people thought he’d be like the character (George Jefferson), but it was a character. He was really nice and quiet. He was a little guy with a huge heart.”
In addition to acting he also was a fan of jazz music and a musician who performed several times in El Paso.
Dennis Woo, operations director at KTEP, said Hemsley would call the El Paso radio station every so often and share stories off air with Woo.
"He would say 'God, I haven't heard that song in a long, long time,'" Woo said. "After he called a few times, I finally asked him what his first name was and he said 'You know me as Mr. Jefferson.'"
Woo said Hemsley would usually call the station after he heard an NPR story he was particularly interested in or around certain jazz festival times.
"There was one time he shared a story that he and Bill Cosby used to hang out at the Playboy Jazz Festival with all the luminaries. He would say that here's a guy that used to be a postman and here he is hanging out with all the greats and getting to meet Dizzy Gillespie, among others," Woo said.
Hemsley ended up in El Paso in 1999 after he declared bankruptcy and moved in with his manager, who lived in El Paso, according to Inside Edition.
He fell in love with El Paso because he liked the way the city looked and that it was a safe place to live, Almonte said.
"I saw him a few months ago when he came to San Antonio,” Almonte said. “He performed a show that ran for two weeks. He was so full of energy and didn’t seem like a 74-year-old. He looked like a star, a star that would never go out. I was lucky he was in my life."