Jim Varney Biography

James Albert Varney Jr. was an American stage, TV, and film actor. This biography profiles his childhood, family, personal life, career, etc.

Quick Facts

Birthday: June 15, 1949

Nationality: American

Famous: Actors American Men

Died At Age: 50

Sun Sign: Gemini

Also Known As: James Albert Varney, Jr.

Born in: Lexington, Kentucky

Famous as: Actor

Height: 6'1" (185 cm), 6'1" Males

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Jacqueline Drew (m. 1977–1983), Jane Varney (m. 1988–1991)

father: James Albert Varney Sr.

mother: Nancy Louise Varney (née Howard)

Died on: February 10, 2000

U.S. State: Kentucky

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James Albert Varney Jr. was a ‘Daytime Emmy Award’-winning American stage, TV, and film actor. He was best known for his signature role of ‘Ernest P. Worrell,’ which he portrayed in various commercials, films, and TV shows. As a child, he displayed excellent memorizing skills and also imitated cartoon characters from TV. Noticing his talent, Jim’s mother made him participate in children's theater, and with time, he developed an interest in the art and won state titles in various drama competitions. He started acting professionally at age 17 and made a number of stage appearances. He rose to prominence by playing ‘Ernest P. Worrell’ and portraying the character in several TV commercials, starting from a 1980 advertisement that featured the ‘Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ at ‘Beech Bend Park.’ He also played ‘Ernest’ in the TV series ‘Hey Vern, It's Ernest!’ and in films such as ‘Ernest Goes to Camp,’ ‘Ernest Rides Again,’ and ‘Ernest in the Army.’ He also portrayed every member of Ernest’s family. Other notable works of Varney include lending his voice to the animated character ‘Slinky Dog’ in the films ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Toy Story 2’ and playing ‘Jed Clampett’ in the film ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’

Childhood & Early Life
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Career
  • One of his initial TV pursuits was an appearance in an episode of the daytime variety talk show ‘Dinah!’ in 1976. He played the recurring character of ‘Virgil Simms’ in the comedy show ‘Fernwood 2 Night’ in 1977 and in its follow-up series, ‘America 2-Night,’ in 1978. He also featured as ‘Seaman “Doom & Gloom” Broom’ in the series ‘Operation Petticoat’ in 1978.
  • His first commercial as ‘Ernest P. Worrell’ was an advertisement that featured the ‘Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ at ‘Beech Bend Park’ in 1980. The character was created by ‘Carden & Cherry,’ an advertising agency based in Nashville, and was used in several local TV commercials, apart from being used in markets across the US.
  • Many dairies, including the Nashville-based ‘Purity Dairies,’ the Maine-based ‘Oakhurst Dairy,’ the Raleigh- based ‘Pine State Dairy,’ and the Tuttle- based dairy bar and hamburger chain ‘Braum's’ used the character in their commercials. His famous catchphrase “Knowhutimean, Vern?" featured in several such advertisements.
  • Over the years, he appeared as ‘Ernest’ in several other commercials. These included the advertisements for ‘Convenient Food Mart’ and the ‘Laclede Gas Company’ in the 1980s. He also featured in advertisements for the ‘Michigan Consolidated Gas Company’ and ‘Braum's Ice Cream and Dairy Stores’ in the 1980s. The 1990s saw him featuring in commercials for ‘Blake's Lotaburger’ among others. Various national brands, such as ‘The Coca-Cola Company,’ ‘Taco John's,’ and ‘Chex,’ featured ‘Ernest’ in their advertisements.
  • Most of the ‘Ernest’ commercials were released by ‘Hollywood Pictures’ and ‘Touchstone Pictures Home Video’ on VHS tapes. On October 31, 2006, ‘Mill Creek Entertainment’ released these commercials on DVD. They were re-released on June 5, 2012, as part of the DVD set ‘Ernest's Wacky Adventures: Volume 1’ by ‘Image Entertainment.’ ‘Ernest’ was also featured at ‘Epcot,’ a theme park at the ‘Walt Disney World Resort.’
  • Varney also appeared as the humorless drill instructor ‘Sgt. Glory,’ another creation of ‘Carden & Cherry,' in many commercials. He appeared as ‘Auntie Nelda’ in many films.
  • Meanwhile, the character of ‘Ernest’ became popular enough for it to be featured in a TV series and several films. The first film featuring ‘Ernest’ was the 1986 science-fiction comedy ‘Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam.’
  • The second film featuring ‘Ernest,’ titled ‘Ernest Goes to Camp,’ was released on May 22, 1987. It became a sensational hit, grossing US$ 23.5 million at the box office, against a budget of US$ 3 million.
  • The children’s TV series ‘Hey Vern, It's Ernest!’ was originally aired on ‘CBS’ for 13 episodes, from September 17, 1988, to December 24, 1988. The show was rerun in the 1990s on ‘The Family Channel.’ Other artists who featured in the series were Gailard Sartain, Bill Byrge, and Debi Derryberry. The series earned Varney a ‘Daytime Emmy Award’ in the category of ‘Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series’ in 1989.
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  • An array of ‘Ernest’ films followed. These included the hits ‘Ernest Saves Christmas’ (1988), ‘Ernest Goes to Jail’ (1990), and ‘Ernest Scared Stupid’ (1991).
  • The next film in the ‘Ernest’ series, ‘Ernest Rides Again,’ which released on November 12, 1993, was a commercial failure. It was the last film of the series to be released theatrically. The ‘Ernest’ films released after this were all ‘direct-to-video’ releases. These included ‘Ernest Goes to School’ (1994), ‘Slam Dunk Ernest’ (1995), ‘Ernest Goes to Africa’ (1997), and ‘Ernest in the Army’ (1998).
  • One of his notable works apart from the ‘Ernest’ films was his voice-over as ‘Slinky Dog,’ a toy dachshund, in the ‘Disney/Pixar' computer-animated film ‘Toy Story.’ The film released in November 1995 and became a blockbuster hit. He went on to reprise the role in its first sequel, titled ‘Toy Story 2,’ which released in November 1999 and also became a super hit.
  • A few notable TV performances of Varney were for the TV series ‘Pink Lady’ (1980) and ‘The Rousters’ (1983). Some of Varney’s noteworthy films were ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ (1993), ‘Wilder Napalm’ (1993), ‘100 Proof’ (1997), and ‘3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain’ (1998).
  • His final role was his voice-over as ‘Jebidiah “Cookie” Farnsworth’ in the hit animated science-fantasy film ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire.’ The film, which was released posthumously in June 2001, was dedicated to his memory.
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Personal Life
  • Jim married Jacqueline Drew on June 15, 1977, but the couple divorced in 1983. He then married Jane Varney in 1988, and they remained married till their divorce in 1991. They remained friends after their divorce. He had no children.
  • He started having a bad cough during the filming of ‘Treehouse Hostage’ in August 1998 and was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer. A chain-smoker, he quit smoking after his diagnosis and underwent chemotherapy. However, he continued with his acting endeavors. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the disease on February 10, 2000, at his residence in White House, Tennessee, and was buried in ‘Lexington Cemetery’ in Lexington, Kentucky.
  • A detailed biography of the actor, titled ‘The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Actor Jim Varney (Stuff that Vern doesn't even know)’ was published by his nephew, Justin Lloyd, on December 6, 2013.
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1. Spittin' Image (1982)

  (Family)

2. Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)

  (Comedy, Fantasy, Family)


3. Daddy and Them (2001)

  (Comedy, Drama)

4. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

  (Fantasy, Family, Comedy)



5. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)

  (Family, Comedy)

6. Wilder Napalm (1993)

  (Comedy, Fantasy)




7. Ernest Goes to Jail (1990)

  (Family, Crime, Comedy)

8. Ernest Rides Again (1993)

  (Comedy, Family)





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Jim Varney

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