Remembering Mr. Sherman
To most of America and much of the world, he was Mr. Jefferson.
Around Hemsley's East El Paso neighborhood, he was known simply as "Mr. Sherman."
It was difficult for his neighbors not to say his name without smiling.
"He was like one of the family," one neighbor told ABC-7 in July.
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.
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.
“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.”
A Love For Music
While he gained fame and acclaim as an actor, Hemsley also had a heart for music.
And not just for the gospel music he sang in church as a child or big band music he sang in recent years.
Hemsley began making funky, electronic, loops-based music over the past decade. Advances in music programs and software allowed him to create the soundscapes in his own home.
He found a kindred spirit in El Paso musician Billy Townes when the two met in the late ‘90s in Los Angeles during a National Association of Musician Merchants conference where Townes was demonstrating a program.
Hemsley asked Townes about making loops with the program and their friendship took off from there.
Once back in El Paso, the two kept in touch and over the years they would sometimes hang out and even watch Dallas Cowboys football games together.
They also would discuss and play music here and there.
Hemsley sent Townes a CD of instrumental music and had plans to record vocals over it with Townes as the producer.
“We just never got that far,” Townes said in July.
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 told ABC-7 in July. "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, a fan of jazz music, 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.
ABC-7 reporter Angela Kocherga contributed to this report