Jim Varney (June 15, 1949 – February 10, 2000)
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Varney began acting in local theater at age 8. His first professional acting gig was as Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1965. In 1967 he moved to New York City to do stand-up and off-Broadway productions. In 1976, he was cast as a regular on the TV series Johnny Cash and Friends. He then appeared in a number of short-lived TV shows.
Varney’s first appearance as Ernest P. Worrell was in 1972 for a regional television commercial. He revived Worrell in the 1980s where Worrell promoted hundreds of items. In 1986, Worrell finally hit the big screen in Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam.
There was something that Disney loved about Worrell. In 1987, they released Ernest Goes to Camp. In 1988, Ernest Saves Christmas was released. Disney then made three more Ernest films. Five more were released independently (mostly for TV markets). Varney’s career was not all about Ernest though. In 1993, Varney took on another iconic role — Jed Clampett in the big screen version of the TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies. He also voiced Slinky the Dog in the Toy Story film series.
In 1988, Varney was diagnosed with lung cancer. He underwent radiation treatments and even a surgery to remove his right lung. He disclosed the diagnosis in 1999. His last project was Daddy and Them — released in 2001. On February 10, 2000, in Nashville, Tennessee, Varney passed away at the age of 50.