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Creator / Jim Varney

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"The people who like sports cars and sunglasses are not our audience [for the Ernest films]...From 14 down and 25 up, we have a huge audience. Older people aren't afraid to laugh at him, and kids aren't self-conscious yet."

James Albert Varney Jr. (June 15, 1949- February 10, 2000) was an American actor and comedian best known for the Ernest films, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Toy Story.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Varney expressed an early interest in acting and started taking drama courses as an eight year old. He received training in classical theater from actress Thelma Beeler, and performed in regional theater in Kentucky and Virginia, appearing in productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Blithe Spirit, A Christmas Carol and others. From there, he moved to New York, appearing in off-Broadway theater, along with performing as a stand-up comic. Varney found greater success as a comedian, which showcased his talent in accents and playing multiple characters at once and in the late' 70s relocated to Los Angeles to focus full-time on stand-up.

Varney's comedy led to a handful of film and television roles, including recurring characters on Operation Petticoat and Pink Lady and Jeff, in the late '70s and early '80s. But he didn't gain wide recognition until the mid-'80s, when Varney was cast by Nashville advertising agent John R. Cherry as Ernest P. Worrell in a series of commercials broadcast throughout the South. A scatterbrained, motormouthed mechanic, Ernest promoted a variety of regional products and businesses by speaking to his unseen friend Vern, engaging in pratfalls and slapstick humor and uttering his catchphrase, "Knowwutimean?"

The Ernest commercials gained national attention, and Varney parlayed their success into a long-running series of films and a short-lived television show, Hey Vern, It's Ernest! While generally panned by critics, the Ernest movies were extremely popular with audiences, particularly children.note  The movies' expanded format allowed Varney to build on Ernest's persona, making use of his theatrical training and skill in accents in the character's comedy riffs. Their success earned Varney starring film roles, notably in The Beverly Hillbillies, along with voiceover appearances in Toy Story, The Simpsons and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

Best-known for Ernest and similar comedy roles, Varney did occasionally play dramatic parts. He won positive reviews for playing an abusive father in the independent film 100 Proof, and had a major role in Billy Bob Thornton's film Daddy and Them as the main character's criminal Uncle. Varney often expressed an interest in returning to Shakespearean theater, and starred in a one-time performance of Hamlet for a Nashville charity benefit in 1993.note  Varney reportedly planned to write and star in a film about the Hatfields and McCoys before his death.

He was married to Jacqueline Drew and Jane Varney.

A chain smoker for decades, Varney died in 2000 from lung cancer, at the age of 50.

Film Roles:

Television Roles: