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Owner of Earnestine & Hazel's found dead

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Scott Madaus / FOX13 News Scott Madaus / FOX13 News
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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Businesses and patrons along South Main Street in Downtown Memphis were stunned by the news of the death of one of the area's most renowned restaurant and bar owners.

Homicide detectives were called to the legendary nightspot Earnestine & Hazel's where they the discovered the body of owner Russell George.

George appeared to be the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The 62-year-old owner of the legendary nightspot on the corner of South Main and G.E. Patterson was known for sharing the credit when it came to the success of his business.

George owned the late night downtown haunt where Blues music and the most famed hamburger in town was a recipe for great memories. Unfortunately, Earnestine & Hazel's longtime owner won't be there anymore to roll out the welcome mat to loyal customers and strangers alike.

The shockwaves of disbelief and sadness reverberated up and down the South Main entertainment district as the news spread just after 11 a.m. on Monday. Memphis Police had cordoned off the entrance to the legendary downtown nightspot after receiving a call that a man on the second floor had been found dead and it appeared to be a suicide.

A delivery man discovered the body believed to be, as later confirmed by friends, the establishment's owner.

While homicide detectives conducted interviews, FOX13 News 13 was told by sources a rifle and a note were found near George's body. A close friend also told FOX13 13 News, George had been battling cancer and at times was in a great deal of pain.

George had spent more than 40 years in the restaurant and bar business. For years he owned the Memphis midtown nightspot Murphy's. He took over ownership of Earnestine & Hazel's in 1992.

In a 2008 interview on the survival of small businesses in Memphis, the humble George credited his customers and his staff for Earnestine & Hazel's longevity which included the following year being named by Esquire Magazine as the second best bar in the country.

"Friends have kept me in business," he said in 2008. "There's people here. This might sound funny, but, some of them make more money than I do."

The popularity of Earnestine & Hazel's has always been steeped in lore and myth. The most famous meal on the menu is the "Soul Burger" which has often been crowned as the best of its kind in Memphis. The famed jukebox has beckoned people to the dance floor on weekend nights. The dark allure of the establishment, that was once a brothel at the corner of South Main and G.E. Patterson, has also proved to be a magnet for filmmakers.

George once observed nearly a dozen motion films used the bar as a shooting location. As the real life scene was clearing Memphis Police detectives were still doing interviews and told FOX13 News their investigation into George's death was still continuing.

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FOX13 News reporter Scott Madaus contributed to this report.

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