NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jim Varney, the rubber necked comic who portrayed his rube character “ Ernest” from hundreds of television commercials to a series of movies, died Thursday. He was 50.
Varney died of lung cancer at his home in White House, Tenn., about 20 miles north of Nashville, said his lawyer Hoot Gibson.
Varney became a cult fig ure in the 1980s in a series of regional commercials, por traying Ernest P. Worrell, a know-it-all good ol' boy whose best-known phrase was “ Know-what-I-mean?” and who addressed a character known as “ Vern.”
In the commercials, he got his fingers slammed in a house window, fell off a lad der and got electrically shocked fooling with a bro ken TV set. He plugged a variety of sponsors, including dairy products, car dealer ships, pizza and radio sta tions.
“ Ernest is a neighbor or relative that we've all had at one time,” he once said. “ He's abrasive, but he doesn't mean to be. He gets excited and ends up standing on your toes. I try to make him clown ish and I don't want him too low key; and he's physically funny.”
“ It's been my biggest sounding board. I've grown to know him well.”
Between 1987 and 1990, he was in four “ Ernest” movies for Disney. Five more Ernest films were released indepen dently, mainly for the video and television markets.
Varney also was the voice of Slinky Dog in “ Toy Story” and Toy Story II.”
His movie credits included “ Ernest Goes to Camp” ; “ Ernest Rides Again” ; “ Ernest Saves Christmas” ; “ Ernest Goes to Jail” ; “ Ernest Scared Stupid” ; “ Ernest Goes to School” ; “ 100 Proof,” an independent film; “ The Beverly Hillbillies” (as Jed Clampett); and “ Treehouse Hostage.”
His TV credits included “ Hey Vern, It's Ernest,” “ Roseanne,” “ The Simpsons,” “ The Rousters,” “ Alice,” “ Operation Petticoat,” “ Fernwood 2-Night” and “ Pop Goes the Country.”
Ernest usually was dressed in a baseball cap, T-shirt, blue denim vest and blue jeans.