Longtime Peoria’s man on the move Willie York died early Wednesday morning.
The 74-year-old suffered from multiple ailments for years before moving to hospice on Tuesday. Known as “Peoria’s most famous homeless person,” family members describe him as a well versed, loving individual that wanted the best for everyone around him.
After serving his country in the Vietnam War, York relocated to Peoria in the 1970’s. For the next five decades his colorful face paint, self made wardrobe and unique outlook on life made him well known to many.
While he may have been misunderstood, his family says his life had much more meaning.
“He went to college, he was smart, he was the face to the homeless,” said York’s cousin Lisa McGee. His nephew Lamar Anderson explained, “He shed a light on many of the people who we just overlook on a regular basis.” He adds, “Because of who he is I believe we will look a little bit closer at those people that don’t have as much as everyone else.”
Rumors around central Illinois tell different stories about York, but loved ones remember him as a man that was knowledgeable, caring and had a gentle soul.
“He left a legacy of a man that had always shared more than he ever had,” Anderson said.
A man embraced by the community, York put a footprint in Peoria that will live on for generations.
York was the subject of a short documentary in 2008.