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Jim Varney
Jim Varney.jpg
Varney in the film The Expert (1995)
James Albert Varney Jr.

(1949-06-15)June 15, 1949
Died February 10, 2000(2000-02-10) (aged 50)
White House, Tennessee, U.S.
Resting place Lexington Cemetery
Occupation Actor, comedian, writer
Years active 1976–2000
Known for
Jacqueline Drew
(m. 1977; div. 1983)

Jane Varney
(m. 1988; div. 1991)

James Albert Varney Jr. (June 15, 1949 – February 10, 2000) was an American actor, comedian, and writer. He is best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, who was used in numerous television commercial advertising campaigns and films and a Daytime Emmy Award. He gained further notability for playing Jed Clampett in the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies (1993) and providing the voice of Slinky Dog in Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999).

Early life

Ernest P. Worrell
Ernest P. Worrell

James Albert Varney Jr. was born in Lexington, Kentucky. As a child, Varney displayed the ability to memorize long poems and significant portions of the material from books, which he used to entertain family and friends. When Varney was a boy, his mother would turn on cartoons for him to watch. His mother discovered that Varney quickly began to imitate the cartoon characters, so she started him in children's theater when he was eight years old. Varney began his interest in theater as a teenager, winning state titles in drama competitions while a student at Lafayette High School (class of 1968) in Lexington.


Ernest goes to jail poster
Ernest goes to jail

In 1980, the first commercial featuring Varney as "Ernest" advertised an appearance by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at Beech Bend Park, an amusement park located near Bowling Green, Kentucky. The character was franchised for use in markets all over the country and was often used by dairies to advertise milk products. For example, the dairy bar and hamburger chain Braum's ran several advertisements using Ernest's catchphrase (as it was spelled in his registered trademark), "KnoWhutImean, Vern?".

For the same agency, Varney created a different character, Sgt. Glory, a humorless drill instructor who harangued cows of the client dairy into producing better milk. The Sgt. Glory character also appeared in an advertisement for a southern grocery chain, Pruitt's Food Town, in which he drilled the checkout clerks on proper behavior: "Bread on top. Repeat: Bread on top."

Ernest scared stupid poster
Ernest scared stupid

Varney also starred as Ernest in a series of commercials that ran in the New Orleans area (and throughout the Gulf South) as a spokesman for natural gas utilities. Those same television advertisements also were featured on channels in the St. Louis area for Laclede Gas Company during the mid-1980s and in the Metro Detroit area for Michigan Consolidated Gas Company.

Varney also appeared in several Braum's Ice Cream and Dairy Stores commercials throughout the 1980s. These aired on Oklahoma television. He made commercials for car dealerships across the country.

Varney portrayed Ernest in a series of commercials for Convenient Food Mart during the 1980s. In 1982, Varney co-hosted the syndicated Pop! Goes the Country with singer Tom T. Hall. The show had just had a major overhaul and ended shortly afterward. He also portrayed "Auntie Nelda", in numerous commercials long before he resurrected the character for the movies. During the 1990s, Varney reprised his role as Ernest for Blake's Lotaburger, a fast food chain in New Mexico.

Ernest's popularity

Hey Vern, It's Ernest!
Hey Vern, It's Ernest!

Varney's character Ernest proved so popular that it was spun off into a TV series, Hey Vern, It's Ernest! (1988) and a series of movies in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) was a huge hit, grossing $23.5 million at the U.S. box office, on a $3 million production budget, and staying in the Box Office Top 5 for its first three weeks of release. Though the film saw Varney nominated for the now-defunct Razzie Award for Worst New Star, only one year later Varney earned the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series for Hey Vern, It's Ernest!

The Ernest Film Festival (a.k.a. Greatest Hits Volume 1) was released on VHS in 1986. Greatest Hits Volume 2 was released in 1992. Mill Creek Entertainment released these classic television commercials on DVD box sets October 31, 2006. Image Entertainment re-released them on June 5, 2012, as part of the DVD set Ernest's Wacky Adventures: Volume 1 February 2018.

Personal life

Varney was married twice, first to Jacqueline Drew (1977–1983) and then to Jane Varney (1988–1991). Both marriages ended in divorce, although he remained friends with his ex-wife Jane until his death; she became Varney's spokesperson and accompanied him in Pixar's 1999 film Toy Story 2. Both unions were childless.

On December 6, 2013, Jim Varney's nephew, Justin Lloyd, published a comprehensive biography about his uncle titled The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Actor Jim Varney (Stuff that Vern doesn't even know).

Illness and death

Jim Varney (handprints in cement)
Jim Varney's handprints, displayed at Disney

During the filming of Treehouse Hostage in August 1998, Varney started developing a bad cough. A chain smoker, Varney had lung cancer. The disease slowly became worse, yet Varney continued to film movies.

Varney finally returned to Tennessee, where he went through chemotherapy in the hope he could beat the disease. However, it failed, and he died on February 10, 2000, at his home in White House, Tennessee, a city north of Nashville, at the age of 50. He was buried in Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky. Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which was released a year after his death, was his final role. The film was dedicated to his memory.



Year Title Role Notes
1982 Spittin' Image Sheriff
1983 Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It's My Family Album Ernest P. Worrell / Davy Worrell & Company / Ace Worrell / Lloyd Worrell / Billy Boogie Worrell / Rhetch Worrell / Pop Worrell
1986 Ernest's Greatest Hits Volume 1 (The Ernest Film Festival) Ernest P. Worrell
Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam Dr. Otto / Ernest P. Worrell / Rudd Hardtact / Laughin' Jack / Guy Dandy / Auntie Nelda
1987 Ernest Goes to Camp Ernest P. Worrell
Hey Vern, Win $10,000...Or Just Count on Having Fun! Ernest P. Worrell
1988 Ernest Saves Christmas Ernest P. Worrell / Aster Clement / The Governor's Student / Auntie Nelda / Mrs. Brock / Marty's Mother / The Snake Guy
1989 Fast Food Wrangler Bob Bundy
1990 Ernest Goes to Jail Ernest P. Worrell / Felix Nash / Auntie Nelda
1991 Ernest Scared Stupid Ernest P. Worrell / Phineas Worrell / Auntie Nelda / Various Relatives
1992 Ernest's Greatest Hits Volume 2 Ernest P. Worrell
1993 Wilder Napalm Rex
The Beverly Hillbillies Jed Clampett
Ernest Rides Again Ernest P. Worrell
1994 Ernest Goes to School
1995 The Expert Snake
Slam Dunk Ernest Ernest P. Worrell
Toy Story Slinky Dog Voice
Bubba Goes Hunting Bubba
1996 Snowboard Academy Rudy James
1997 Ernest Goes to Africa Ernest P. Worrell / Hey You, the Hindu / Auntie Nelda / African Woman Dancer
100 Proof Rae's Father
Blood, Friends and Money The Old Mariner
Annabelle's Wish Mr. Gus Holder Voice
1998 Ernest in the Army Pvt./Capt. Ernest P. Worrell / Operation Sandtrap Arab
3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain Lothar Zogg
1999 Existo Marcel Horowitz
Treehouse Hostage Carl Banks
Toy Story 2 Slinky Dog Voice
2001 Atlantis: The Lost Empire Jebidiah 'Cookie' Farnsworth Voice
Daddy and Them Hazel Montgomery (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Dinah! Himself 1 episode
1977 Operation Petticoat Doom & Gloom Broom
Fernwood 2 Night Virgil Simms Episode: "Ethnic Myths"
Episode: "Getting the Most from Your Warranty"
Episode: "#1.46"
Episode: "Battery Powered Car"
1978 America 2-Night Virgil Simms Episode: "Daredevil Virgil Simms"
Episode: "Falafel-on-a-Stick"
Episode: "The UBS Story"
Operation Petticoat Seaman 'Doom & Gloom' Broom 32 episodes
Alice Milo Skinner Episode: "Better Never Than Later"
1979 Alan King's Third Annual Final Warning! Various
1980 Pink Lady Various All 6 episodes
1982–83 Pop! Goes the Country Bobby Burbank / 'Shotglass' The Bartender / Bunny The Barmaid Unknown episodes
1983 The Rousters Evan Earp TV series pilot film
The Rousters Evan Earp All 13 episodes
1988 Hey Vern, It's Ernest! Ernest P. Worrell / Various
1988–89 Happy New Year, America Ernest P. Worrell / Correspondent Live New Year's Eve special
1989 Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain Ernest P. Worrell
1990 Disneyland Ernest P. Worrell / Ernest's Father Episode: "Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration"
Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration Ernest P. Worrell
1994 XXX's & OOO's Cameo
1996 Roseanne Prince Carlos Episode: "Someday My Prince Will Come"
Episode: "Home Is Where the Afghan Is"
1997 Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man Walt Evergreen Voice only
Episode: "You've Come a Wrong Way, Baby"
1998 Hercules: The Animated Series King Ephialtes Voice only
Episode "Hercules and the Dance Muse"
1998 The Simpsons Cooder Voice only
Episode: "Bart Carny"

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