Jim Varney

Active - 1977 - 2001  |   Born - Jun 15, 1949   |   Died - Feb 10, 2000   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Gangling, Kentucky-born actor Jim Varney cut his professional teeth at Virginia's Barter Theater, a summer-stock concern specializing in vintage American melodramas. At his funniest when playing it totally straight, Varney was hired as a comedy-ensemble member of the 1976 TV variety series The Johnny Cash Show. He went on to play Evel Knievel-takeoff Virgil Sims in Norman Lear's syndicated talk show spoofs Fernwood 2-Night (1977) and America 2-Night (1978). He was also seen as Seaman Broom on Operation Petticoat (1977), in another ensemble play on the ill-fated Pink Lady (1980), as host of the 1982-1983 season of the country-western syndie Pop! Goes the Country, and as Evan Earp, a very distant descendant of Wyatt, on The Rousters. While this multitude of TV credits was impressive enough, Varney's true claim to fame rested in his dozens of commercial appearances, first as Sgt. Glory in a series of public service spots for the Southern Dairy Commission, then as dimwitted hayseed Ernest P. Worrell ("Hey, Vern!" "KnowhutImean?") in a variety of ads aimed at regional markets. Varney parlayed the Ernest character into a handful of videocassettes (many of these highlighted by profanity-peppered outtakes), a Saturday morning TV kiddie show titled Hey, Vern, It's Ernest (1988-1989), and seemingly endless series of low-budget, lowbrow film comedies bearing such titles as Ernest Goes to Camp (1987), Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), and Ernest: Scared Stupid (1989). Outside of his by-now standard characterization, Jim Varney was quite effectively cast as mountain patriarch Jed Clampett in the 1993 film version of the old TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. His biggest-profile role came with the 1995 blockbuster animated film Toy Story, which found Varney cast as Slinky Dog. Varney reprised the role for the 1999 sequel Toy Story 2, and shortly before the release of the second film, Varney revealed he had been battling life-threatening lung cancer since August 1998. Late in 1999, he had experienced a remission from the cancer, but this was to be short-lived. His final battle lasted barely a couple of months after the sequel's release, with Varney succumbing to the disease in February 2000 at the age of 50.

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