James Albert "Jim" Varney, Jr. (June 15, 1949 – February 10, 2000) was an American actor, voice artist, and comedian, best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, who was used in numerous television commercial campaigns and movies in the following years, giving Varney fame worldwide.[1][2] [3] [4]

Early life

Varney was born the fourth child and only son of Louise (née Howard; January 14, 1913 – August 22, 1994) and James Albert Varney, Sr. (January 1, 1910 – January 11, 1985), in Lexington, Kentucky, where he grew up. As a young child, Jim Varney displayed the ability to memorize long poems and significant portions of material from books, in which he used to entertain family and friends. (This proved to be a lifelong gift. While doing Ernest commercials, Varney sometimes did upwards of 25 different versions of a spot in a single day, able to memorize lines for each version instantaneously). When Varney was a boy, his mother used to put the black and white TV on cartoons for him to watch. His mother discovered that Varney quickly began to imitate the cartoon characters, so she got him into children’s theater when he was 8 years old. He began his interest in theater as a teenager, winning state titles in drama competitions while a student at Lafayette High School (which he graduated from with the class of 1968) in Lexington. He attended Murray State University at the age of 15, where he portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in a local theater production, and by 17, he was performing professionally in nightclubs and coffee houses. Varney studied Shakespeare at the Barter Theatre located in Virginia and performed in an Opryland folk show its first year of operation in the 1970s. He listed a former teacher, Thelma Beeler, as being one of the main contributing factors in his becoming an actor. When he was 24, Varney was an actor at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky. The theater was adjacent to an old West Village and prior to the show the audience would tour the village where Apprentices would play townsfolk. Varney and the company usually played in the outdoor theater to audiences of a few dozen people. Varney would regale the young apprentices by throwing knives into trees. He performed in "Blithe Spirit", "Boeing 707" and an original musical "Fire on the Mountain." He once jokingly threatened a long haired apprentice, John Lino Ponzini, that he would take him up to Hazard, Kentucky where he wouldn't make it down Main Street without the townsfolk giving him a crewcut.[5]

Television commercial career

The first commercial as Ernest, filmed in 1980, was to advertise 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 Midwestern dairy bar chain Braum's ran several advertisements using Ernest's catch phrase (as it was spelled in his registered trademark), "KnoWhutImean, Vern?" Purity Dairies, based in Nashville, and Oakhurst Dairy in Maine ran commercials that were nearly identical but with the dairy name changed.[citation needed]

For the same agency, Varney created a different character, "Sgt. Glory," a humorless drill instructor who harangued cows of the client's dairy into producing better milk. In another spot, Glory's home was shown as he had a date, and was so heavily decorated with the products of the sponsor and advertising specialty items for it that it was essentially devoid of any other decor. The Sgt. Glory character also appeared in an advertisement for a southern grocery chain, Pruitt's Food Town, in which he's drilling the checkout clerks on proper behavior. ("Bread on top. Repeat: Bread on top.") He approaches one of them at the end of the commercial with a look of menace and says, "You're not smilin'." The checkout bagger gives a very nervous and forced smile.[citation needed]

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. In one, he is seen kneeling down in front of Vern's desk under a lamp hanging from the ceiling, stating, "Natural Gas, Vern; it's hot, fast, and cheap. Hot, fast, cheap; kinda like your first wife, Vern—you know, the pretty one!?" Vern then knocks the lamp into Ernest's head, knocking him down. Those same TV ads were also featured on TV channels in the St. Louis area for Laclede Gas during the mid-1980s. Another TV ad for Laclede Gas featured Ernest saying, "Heat pump-schmeat pump."[citation needed]

He was also noted for doing commercials for car dealerships across the country, most notably Cerritos Auto Square in Cerritos, California; Tysons Toyota in Tysons Corner, Virginia; and Audubon Chrysler in Henderson, Kentucky.[6] Another favorite Ernest vehicle was promotions for various TV stations around the nation, including the news team and the weather departments.[citation needed]

Varney also portrayed another character, "Auntie Nelda," in numerous commercials long before he resurrected the character for the movies Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Goes to Jail, and Ernest Rides Again. Dressed in drag and appearing to be a senior citizen, the commercials gave off the tone of a motherly lady encouraging you to do what was right (in this case, buy whatever product was being promoted). This character, along with the "Ernest" character, ran a couple of years in Mississippi and Louisiana in commercials for Ledco Aluminum Siding, a company that would come out and give you an estimate for placing aluminum siding on your home. Ledco often bought two-hour slots in local markets. During the slot, a movie was televised, and Varney (as one of his characters) and a Ledco representative would be the only commercial breaks during the movie to promote Ledco.[7]

During the 1990s, Varney reprised his role as Ernest for Blake's Lotaburger, a fast food chain in New Mexico. In these commercials, Ernest would typically be trying to get into Vern's house to see what food Vern was eating. After a lengthy description of whatever tasty morsel Vern had, Ernest would get locked out but would continue to shout from outside.[citation needed] [8]

Ernest's popularity


The handprints of Jim Varney in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.

Varney's character Ernest P. Worrell proved so popular that it was spun off into a TV series, Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, and a series of movies in the 1980s and 1990s.[9][10] Ernest Goes to Camp brought Varney a nomination for "Worst New Star" at the 1987 Golden Raspberry Awards; however, the movie was a huge hit, grossing $25 million at the box office.

In 1989, Jim Varney won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series for Hey Vern, It's Ernest (1988). Varney, playing Ernest both times, was nominated for a Razzie Award one year (1988) and then won an Emmy Award the next year (1989).

Other Ernest movies include Ernest Saves Christmas, Slam Dunk Ernest, Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Goes to Africa, Ernest Rides Again, Ernest Goes to School, Ernest Scared Stupid, and Ernest in the Army. The Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot theme park featured Ernest. Epcot's Cranium Command attraction used the Ernest character in its preshow as an example of a "lovable, but not the brightest person on the planet" type of person. And in addition to his Ernest Goes to… series, he starred as Ernest in several smaller movies for Carden & Cherry, such as Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It's My Family Album; Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam; and Your World as I See It, all of which showcased his great facility with assuming a wide variety of characters and accents. The Ernest Film Festival (a.k.a. Greatest Hits Volume 1) was released on VHS in 1986. It contains his television commercials. Greatest Hits Volume 2 was released in 1992. These skits were issued on DVD box sets October 31, 2006, by Mill Creek Entertainment.

Non-"Ernest" work

Jim Varney had an established acting career prior to his fame as Ernest. In 1976, Varney was a regular cast member of The Johnny Cash Show. He also played a recurring guest on faux late-night talk show Fernwood 2 Night. From 1977-1979, Varney was cast as Seaman "Doom & Gloom" Broom in the TV version of Operation Petticoat. Just prior to his stint as Ernest, he was a cast member on the notorious television flop Pink Lady and Jeff.

From 1983-1984, Varney played heartthrob Chad Everett's younger brother Evan Earp in the comedy-drama, high action TV series, The Rousters, created by Stephen J. Cannell, about the descendants of Wyatt Earp, a family of bounty hunters/carnival bouncers. As Evan Earp, Varney played a con-man/mechanical-inventor "genius", constantly getting himself into comedic trouble with those around him ready to lynch him. Although the series was promising, the show failed after its first season because it was poorly slotted (4 episodes every few months) against the no. 1 prime time TV series for the past 6 years, The Love Boat.

Varney can be seen in Hank Williams, Jr.'s video for "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight", where he is briefly shown casually riding a bull being pulled on a rope by a young lady and later in a swimming pool with two young ladies.

In 1985, Varney co-hosted HBO's New Year's Eve special, along with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Varney also played Jed Clampett in the 1993 production of The Beverly Hillbillies; Rex, a carnival worker/associate of Dennis Quaid in Wilder Napalm, which is about two pyrokinetic brothers, played by Quaid and Arliss Howard, and as an accident prone entertainer/watch guard (aka "safety guy/human torch") Rudy James in the movie Snowboard Academy. He later played a small role in the 1995 action film The Expert as a weapons dealer named Snake.

Varney also lent his voice to the character Slinky Dog in Disney's Toy Story film series (Varney was replaced by Blake Clark in Toy Story 3), and played numerous others, including "Cookie" Farnsworth, from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, released the year after his death (Steve Barr replaced Varney for the sequel Atlantis: Milo's Return), the carny character Cooter in the "Bart Carny" episode of The Simpsons, the character Walt Evergreen in the Duckman episode "You've Come a Wrong Way, Baby", Prince Carlos Charmaine (a royal suitor Jackie dates) for a few episodes of the final season of the 1990s television series Roseanne, and the villain Lothar Zogg in the 1998 film 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, also starring Hulk Hogan and Loni Anderson.

He had a brief role as an incestuous, abusive father in an independent production, 100 Proof, for which he received good reviews from critics. Varney also had a bit of a shocking role as one of the rebels in the midnight movie, Existo, a film dubbed as the next Rocky Horror Picture Show. Varney played an old Mariner in a low budget horror film, Blood, Friends, and Money. During the filming of Treehouse Hostage, Varney plays an escaped convict held hostage and tormented by some 5th graders in a treehouse.

One of his final movies was Billy Bob Thornton's Daddy and Them, where Varney plays Uncle Hazel, who has been arrested for murder. Co-stars include Kelly Preston and Andy Griffith. Another final guest appearance was the Bibleman Genesis Series Bibleman Jr. Volume 1 & 2 as himself where he has a friendly chat with a small group of young children about making silly faces and laughter, then entertainingly sings a simple song with them.

He starred in three videos, The Misadventures of Bubba, The Misadventures of Bubba II, and Bubba Goes Hunting, in which he played himself and taught young kids important safety rules about hunting and guns. He illustrated the rules with the help of his bumbling and accident-prone cousin Bubba (also played by Varney) and Bubba's imaginary hunting pal Billy Bob. The videos were distributed as part of a membership pack from Buckmasters' Young Bucks Club.

According to an interview, one of Jim's final projects was writing a screenplay about the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, stating that his grandfather hunted squirrel with the McCoys.

Varney said his dream role would have been to perform Hamlet. During novelist Peter David’s efforts to bring his 1987 novel Knight Life to the big screen, movie producers intended to have Jim Varney portray the role of King Arthur (the main character).

Personal life

Varney referred to himself as a "Hill William," which is a refined hillbilly (Florence Henderson's Country Kitchen, Part I).[citation needed]

Varney was married twice, to Jacqueline Drew (1977–83) and Jane Varney (1988–91). Both marriages ended in divorce, though he remained friends with Jane until his death; she became his spokesperson and accompanied Varney to the Toy Story 2 premiere before he died. Varney had no children.[citation needed]


During the filming of Treehouse Hostage[11], Varney started developing a nagging cough. At first it was thought that he might have caught a cold because of the climate of the area where the movie was being filmed. However, the cough worsened and Varney began noticing blood on his handkerchief. After filming was complete, Varney went to the doctor. A life-long heavy smoker, Varney had developed lung cancer. The disease slowly worsened, but Varney continued filming movies. He finally returned to Tennessee, where he went through chemotherapy in hopes that he could beat the disease. He died on February 10, 2000 in his home in White House, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville. He was 50 years old. He was buried in Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky.[12]


Year Film 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 Direct-to-video
1986 Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam Dr. Otto, Ernest P. Worrell, Rudd Hardtact, Laughin' Jack, Guy Dandy, Auntie Nelda
Ernest's Greatest Hits Volume 1 (The Ernest Film Festival) Ernest P. Worrell Direct-to-video
1987 Ernest Goes to Camp Ernest P. Worrell First feature film
Hey Vern, Win $10,000...Or Just Count On Having Fun! Ernest P. Worrell Direct-to-video
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, Mr. Felix Nash, Auntie Nelda
1991 Ernest Scared Stupid Ernest P. Worrell
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 Ernest P. Worrell, Aster Clement, Baby Ernest, Auntie Nelda, Bunny, Coy
1995 Slam Dunk Ernest Ernest P. Worrell Direct-to-video
The Expert Snake
School Story Koby Boese Voice
Toy Story Slinky Dog Voice
Bubba Goes Hunting Bubba Direct-to-video
1996 Snowboard Academy Rudy James
1997 Blood, Friends and Money The Old Mariner
100 Proof Rae's Father
Ernest Goes to Africa Ernest P. Worrell, Hey You, the Hindu, Auntie Nelda, African Woman dancer
Annabelle's Wish Mr. Gus Holder Voice
1998 Ernest in the Army Pvt. Ernest P. Worrell, Capt. Ernest P. Worrell, Operation Sandtrap Arab
3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain Lothar Zogg
1999 Existo Marcel Horowitz
Treehouse Hostage Carl Banks
School Story 2 Koby Boese Voice Only
Toy Story 2 Slinky Dog Voice (Last film)
2001 Atlantis: The Lost Empire Jebidiah Allardyce 'Cookie' Farnsworth Voice
Daddy and Them Hazel Montgomery


Year Film Role Notes
1977 Operation Petticoat Doom & Gloom Broom TV film
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 TV film
1980 Pink Lady Various All 6 episodes
1982-83 "Pop! Goes the Country" 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 TV series
1989 Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain Ernest P. Worrell TV film
1990 Disneyland Ernest P. Worrell, Ernest's Father Episode: "Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration"
Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration Ernest P. Worrell TV special
1994 XXX's & OOO's Cameo TV film
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
Episode: "You've Come a Wrong Way, Baby"
1998 The Simpsons Cooder Episode: "Bart Carny"

Video games

Year Film Role Notes
1996 Toy Story Activity Center Slinky Dog
1999 Toy Story 2 Slinky Dog
2000 Atlantis: The Lost Empire Cookie


External links

  1. REDIRECT Template:IMDb name

nl:Jim Varney pl:Jim Varney pt:Jim Varney fi:Jim Varney sv:Jim Varney

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.