Birthday: October 5, 1946
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Marvin Sutton
Born Country: United States
Born in: Maggie Valley, North Carolina, United States
Famous as: Criminal, Non Fiction Writer
Spouse/Ex-: Pam Sutton (m. 2007)
father: Lavator Sutton
mother: Bonnie Mness Cagle
children: Sky Sutton
Died on: March 16, 2009
place of death: Parrottsville, Tennessee, United States
Popcorn Sutton was an American Appalachian bootlegger and moonshiner. He gained notoriety through illegal trade. Hailing from North Carolina, he had spent his whole life in the rural areas of Maggie Valley and Cocke County, Tennessee. Sutton began his legacy of being a moonshiner and a bootlegger with a single barrel, which became an empire later. However, in between, Sutton had to face several legal charges. He went through every struggle to build the moonshine empire. However, he did not wish to face imprisonment. This became one of the reasons responsible for his suicide. He had self-published an autobiography, self-produced a home video featuring his moonshining activities, and was the subject of several documentaries, one of which received a 'Regional Emmy Award.' To carry forward his legacy, a famous whiskey brand, run by Sutton's wife, was named after him. Throughout his life, Sutton proudly held on to his Scotch-Irish American ethnicity and boasted about the fact that he had moonshining in his blood.
Childhood & Early Life
Sutton was born Marvin Sutton, on October 5, 1946, in the tiny town of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, to Bonnie and Vader. His parents lived in a wooden house in a mountain perched beside a tumbling stream.
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Sutton began his moonshining and bootlegging empire with just one barrel, that too, at a time when they were considered illicit businesses in the US. Back then, he lived on Snowbird Mountain. To start the business, Sutton borrowed money from Nick Price. He later paid him back with liquor. Every time Sutton finished filling a barrel, he would give Nick a gallon and sell the rest to him. He would sell a gallon of alcohol for just 6 dollars. Thus, it took him forever to clear his debts.
Unfortunately, Sutton was not making enough money back then. Whatever he earned from trading the barrels to Nick would go back into the next batch of products, and he would leave with little to spend on his household. However, Sutton continued producing liquor barrels, and the business eventually grew more prominent.
Sutton earned massive fame as a liquor king by the time he turned 60. In 1999, he launched his self-published autobiography, 'Me and My Likker,' which also chronicled the incredible journey of moonshine production. He published the book at his junk shop in Maggie Valley.
Sutton also produced a home video of the same name, which he released on VHS tape. He made his first film appearance in 2002, with Neal Hutcheson's documentary 'Mountain Talk.' Following this, he featured in another of Neal's documentaries, titled 'This Is the Last Dam Run of Likker I'll Ever Make,' which was a cult classic of the time and eventually caught the attention of many TV producers in Boston and New York.
In 2007, 'The History Channel' featured Sutton's next documentary, 'Hillbilly: The Real Story.' He also appeared in the Western 'Ghost Town: The Movie.' Neal used footages from 'Mountain Talk' in his next documentary, 'The Last One.' Released in 2008 and broadcast on 'CBS,' the documentary received a 'Southeast Emmy Award' in 2009.
Two of Sutton’s other documentaries, 'Popcorn Sutton: A Hell of a Life' and 'Squzz Corn N' Ole Scratch' (short), were released in 2014 and 2012, respectively, after his death. His archive footages were featured in the 2016 docuseries 'Moonshiners.'
As Sutton's business continued to flourish, he got involved in several legal issues, such as selling untaxed liquor, possessing controlled substances, and assaulting with a deadly weapon (between 1981 and 1985). However, he always received only probation sentences. In 2017, Sutton's Parrottsville estate caught fire. This led the firefighters to discover 650 gallons of untaxed alcohol. Following this, he was put on probation by Cocke County authorities.
In March 2008, Sutton informed an undercover federal officer about the moonshine gallons in Tennessee and Maggie Valley, which he wanted to trade. However, the ‘Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ (ATF) raided the spots.
In January 2009, Sutton was charged with illegal distillation of spirits and firearm possession. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months of federal imprisonment.
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However, since he was diagnosed with cancer, Sutton requested US District Judge Ronnie Greer to grant him house arrest instead of sending him to prison. Moreover, there were several petitions made to reduce his sentence.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Popcorn Sutton was married to Pam Sutton. They had two daughters. They dated for a month before getting married. Sutton committed suicide 2 years after their marriage.
On March 16, 2009, Sutton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. It was said he did this to avoid the federal prison term that was supposed to start a few days later. Additionally, Sutton had had a mental breakdown after being diagnosed with cancer.
Sutton's daughter later revealed that Sutton had once told her mother that he would prefer dying than going to jail. Sutton was first interred at a family graveyard in Mount Sterling, North Carolina. On October 24, 2009, his body was moved to his Parrottsville estate.
His gravesite footstone reads "Popcorn Said Fuck You.'' He had got the footstone made in advance and had kept for years by his front porch. He also had a coffin ready in his living room.
Soon after Sutton's demise, there were rumors that suggested his grave had been vandalized. Some speculated that Pam might have secretly moved the body.
The nickname "Popcorn" was given to him in the 1960s or the 1970s, after Sutton attacked a broken popcorn vending machine with a pool cue.
In 2009, Sutton's estranged daughter Sky published a book titled 'Daddy Moonshine: The Story of Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton,' which gave a lot of details about her father's life. The revised version of the book includes details of his death.
Singer-songwriter Hank Williams III attended Sutton's funeral and later sang 'Moonshiner's Life,' a song about Sutton, which is part of the singer’s 2010 album 'Rebel Within.'
In 2012, Hillbilly Hero and Tom Wilson Jester teamed up to release a photographic book about Sutton, 'The Making and Marketing.' It was composed by photographer Don Dudenbostel.
On November 9, 2010, Hank Williams Jr. partnered with 'J&M Concepts LLC' and Pam Sutton to distill and distribute a whiskey brand titled 'Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey.'
On October 25, 2013, Tennessee whiskey brand ‘Jack Daniel's Properties’ sued Popcorn Sutton's whiskey brand for copying their newly redesigned bottle. The lawsuit was settled in 2014.
In December 2016, ‘Popcorn Sutton Distillery’ was sold to the alcoholic beverage company 'Sazerac Company.'
Sutton was in a live-in relationship with Ernestine Upchurch, who later helped him write his autobiography.
Interestingly, just a year after Sutton died, moonshining was legalized in the US.