On this day in 2000, character actor and comedian Jim Varney passed away at age 50.
Best known for his "Ernest P. Worell" character (first created in 1980 by an advertising agency), Varney also lent his voice to many animated television shows and feature films.
Varney's television commercial career began with a 1980 advertisement, featuring Ernest, for an amusement park in Kentucky. The character was then franchised for use in markets all over the country and Ernest's catch-phrase "KnowhutImean?" became almost as popular as the character itself.
Varney once described this about his beloved Ernest: "Ernest is a neighbor or relative that we've all had at one time. He's abrasive, but he doesn't mean to be. He gets excited and ends up standing on your toes."
Ernest proved to be such a popular cult figure, that he appeared his own TV series Hey Verne, It's Ernest! and later a series of feature films (the first 4 of which were distributed by Disney's Touchstone Pictures). This led Varney to be the voice of Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story films and later the voice of Cookie Farnsworth for Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire (released the year after his death). Varney as Ernest can be spotted on the Disney TV special Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration.
The next time you are in front of The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, look down ... you'll see Varney's hand prints!
Generous and thoughtful, Varney was known to visit sick children (through the Make-A-Wish Foundation) dressed as Ernest.
Well spoken and intelligent, people were always surprised that Varney was nothing like his alter-ego.
A heavy smoker all his life, he died of lung cancer on this day in 2000 at his home in Tennessee.
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