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In Memory of Jim Varney (Ernest P. Worrell)

Thanks for all the Laughs

By Linda RivenbarkPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
In Memory of Jim Varney (Ernest P. Worrell)
Photo by everett mcintire on Unsplash

Comedians add so much to our lives by playing parts of fictional characters who seem so real we do not think of them by their real-life names, but by their character names. Like most actors, many names are ascribed to them depending on what part they are playing at the time.

This composition is a salute to James Albert Varney, Jr. (June 15, 1949 - February 10, 2000). In Jim Varney's 50 years on this planet, he played the parts of many characters.

At the age of 8, he started acting in a Lexington, Kentucky theater. His first professional acting part was that of the character, Puck, from Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, in 1965.

In 1967, he worked as a stand-up comedian in New York City and found parts in Off-Broadway productions.

The characterization he is probably best remembered for is that of Ernest P. Worrell.

Let me tell you what brought 'Ernest' to my mind and prompted me to write this story. When I checked in to Facebook recently, my 41-year-old son, Alex, had reposted a picture of Jim Varney standing by a hospital bed which shared the following:

"Jim Varney, up until the day he passed, weathered cancer treatment, dressed up as Ernest, and visited terminally ill children at hospitals".

It always touches a special place in my heart when I hear of a celebrity or other famous person who reaches out to the sick, injured, or otherwise needy people to lighten their load and somehow brighten their day. Jim Varney was one who did that for literally as long as he could.

My son made a general comment for all to see which stated that he loved Ernest when he was a kid...continuing that he still does. We then exchanged some favorite Ernest P. Worrell quotes that brought back memories of his childhood years, and we enjoyed some emoji laughs together.

My fellow Vocal writers who grew up in the 80s and 90s might remember watching the series of 'Ernest' movies in the same time frame (age-wise) as my sons.

When 'Ernest Goes to Camp' came out at the movie theater in 1987, my two sons were frantic to go see it. Their Dad gave them each a list of things to do in order to get to go see the movie at the theater. As I recall, it took them a couple of weeks to come around and finish the chores on their list, but when they had earned it, they went to see Ernest and were off-the-charts excited. They were about seven and nine years old at the time.

Some interesting quotes from 'Ernest Goes to Camp' include:

“If he had faith in The Great One, the knife would not cut him. If he had courage; true courage, the rock would not break him. If the brave was pure of heart, the arrow could not catch him.”

NURSE ST. CLOUD, when Krader attempted to kill Ernest with a rifle.

By Swarnavo Chakrabarti on Unsplash

"One monkey don't stop no show!".

JIM VARNEY - Ernest P. Worrell

Other popular 'Ernest' movies were released in quick succession including:

1. Ernest Saves Christmas - This 1988 movie release unravels the story of Ernest’s quest to find a proper replacement for the currently aging Santa Claus.

Two memorable quotes from the movie, Ernest Saves Christmas are:

“Christmas is just about my favorite time. Ever since I was a little kid, I always felt like it was my own personal holiday.”

"Smell those Christmas trees. You can keep your "Chanel Number 5", just give me a whiff of the old lonesome pine. That symbol of brotherly love, that centerpiece that all mankind gathers around to share the cranberry sauce shaped like a can".

JIM VARNEY - Ernest P. Worrell

Photo by Linda Rivenbark 12/8/2021

2. Ernest Goes to Jail - This film, featuring a ridiculous story line and well crafted humor was released for it opening weekend in the United States and Canada on April 8, 1990.

Ernest worked as a janitor at a large bank, but his dream was to become a bank teller. It just so happened that he was called for jury duty during which a court lawyer noticed his strong resemblance to a crime lord named Nash (both played by Varney).

The lawyer arranged for a switch, pulled the necessary strings to make it happen, and Nash assumed Ernest's job as a bank employee while Ernest went to prison on death row. Nash, of course, began plotting a bank robbery posed as Ernest.

How the ruse is discovered and Ernest is restored to his bank position after some totally electrifying action, going on to become a bank teller as he had planned, and Nash dealt with by the legal system might keep you on the edge of your seat if you choose to purchase a DVD or blue ray of the movie. Or why not look it up on You is there, too! A word of warning...buckle up, it's a hilarious trip!

One more quote from the ending of Ernest Goes to Jail:

"I came...I saw...I got blowed up!".

JIM VARNEY - Ernest P. Worrell

Ernest movies in the order they were filmed (the release order is a bit different) are listed here:

1. Ernest Goes to School

2. Ernest Saves Christmas

3. Ernest Goes to Camp

4. Slam Dunk Ernest

5. Ernest in the Army

6. Ernest Goes to Jail

7. Ernest Rides Again

8. Ernest Scared Stupid

By the way, I almost forgot. You are wondering (I think) how successful the movie, Ernest Goes to Jail, really was.

I thought you'd never ask.

The movie had an estimated production budget of $9,000,000.

The weekend of April 8, 1990 (opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada), the movie brought in a whoppin' $6,143,372.

The gross income realized by the movie in both countries totaled an impressive $25,029,569. Not a bad profit margin. KnowwhatImean?

The run-on 'word' at the end of the previous sentence became Ernest's by-word before a single Ernest movie was made. His signature KnowwhatImean? was always addressed to Ernest's ever-present but never seen friend, Vern, who never spoke a word in reply.

For the 1976 advertisements which featured a variety of products, Ernest w0n a Daytime Emmy Award and captured a vast audience of fans.

Making the movies was the natural finale of a fascination Ernest fans developed for his slapstick style and sometimes dry humor.

In 1993, Jim Varney played the part of Jed Clampett in the big-screen movie, Beverly Hillbillies, which was a follow up to the TV comedy series by the same name.

Sadly, Varney received a diagnosis of lung cancer in 1998 leading to surgical removal of most of his right lung, followed by radiation treatments.

In 1999, Varney went public with his cancer diagnosis, but continued to work for a while longer. He found ways to fill the time he was able to go places by visiting terminally ill children who were hospitalized, presenting as Ernest, to brighten up their days (and his own).

His final filming venture was appearing alongside Billy Bob Thornton in Daddy and Them in 2001.

Varney died in Nashville, Tennessee on February 10, 2000 at the age of 50.

In closing, I want to share an interview featuring Jim Varney called "Reelin' in the Year Archives".

After watching this YouTube gem and listening to Jim's wit and spontaneity, read the comments and realize how well loved he really was. I can't help but say he was one who had to leave too soon. Or so it seems to me.

Be sure to listen all the way through and catch Jim Varney's last statement to the interviewer.

Then go watch some Ernest movies and you, too, might just feel like you are having entirely too much fun!


About the Creator

Linda Rivenbark

I believe in the magic of words, love, and tenacity. There is a world out there that needs to be explored, researched, and written out to try to make some sense of it, and to make a better place for the children of tomorrow.

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