The Importance Of Being Ernest P. Worrell
For anyone who grew up under a rock, was deprived of a proper childhood or is unfortunately too young to know who Jim Varney or his prized character Ernest P. Worrell was, this is meant to make up for that. In a short span of time, Varney gave us one of the best characters in comedy history, teaching us a thing or two about life along the way.
Between the lesser-known facts, impressive milestones and life lessons herein, it seems you’re about to go to school….Ernest goes to school. “Knowhutimean?
Between 1987 and 1990, four indie Ernest movies generated $100 million.
Those first “Ernest” movies had very low budgets and few effects, relying mostly on Varney’s ability to carry a scene throughout. “Ernest Goes to Camp” had a budget of only $3 million, and the ones to follow weren’t much higher, yet generated close to $100 million. Five more films were released independently, mainly for the video and television markets, and also did fairly well.
He was a master of impersonation.
Late great actors like Varney and Robin Williams, whom Varney was great friends with, both passed before their time, but they were masters of multiple-personality impersonations. Not only did Jim Varney inhabit the Ernest persona for a lengthy bit of his career, he filtered in other outside characters in his movies, dressing up as army brats, elderly women and other hilariously random characters, which held no significance to the movie other than pure enjoyment.
Varney was nearly a genius.
Most Ernest fans would assume Varney to be a hillbilly, based on “Beverly Hillbillies” or a goofball, based on his prevalent Ernest character. But Varney had an incredibly high IQ and had studied Shakespeare. He was also a standup comedian and a musician, sort of an overall renaissance man.
He proved Malcolm Gladwell right, honing his craft in the face of rejection.
Ernest was used in more than a reported 4,000 local commercials, sometimes 25 shot per day. The invention of Ernest P. Worrell came to the out-of-work actor around the time of the actors’ strike in the late ’70s. Back home in Tennessee, Varney was offered local commercials to do with his off-camera buddy Vern. This led to the creation of Ernest movies, for which he earned a Razzie award. One year later, he won a Daytime Emmy. Talk about dedication.
Varney wasn’t in it for the money.
He kept it simple with the flourishing advertisement gig. It wasn’t in Varney’s interest to take the ads nationwide, as they were built for a local audience. Although he probably could have. They shot with a low budget and kept the scripts fun and simple, which was the charm of the character of Ernest.
Success didn’t spoil him.
Jim Varney’s busy schedule and unwavering ability to please the crowds didn’t stop with the ads or the TV show or the 20-something Ernest credits he had in under 15 years. Instead, he continued to do what he loved, performing standup in small Midwestern joints, one of his last videotaped in the ’90s. Varney, along with Robin Williams, was one of the original Comedy Store alumni. Did you know? When asked if he was a chain smoker, he said, “Nah, they’re real hard to light, and you have to carry that big torch around.”
He stayed grounded, despite his busy career.
Most people think to be a successful actor, you have to live in L.A., but Varney kept it simple, moving back to his native Tennessee (where he would pass) amidst the busy times of his career.
He gave back, even despite his illness.
Ernest P. Worrell was one of the most lovable characters of any ’80s child, his movies made to please the masses with simple, quirky humor. But Varney gave back, too, even when he was sick with cancer, he still got into character and visited children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
He did a 1986 anti-smoking ad before dying of lung cancer.
When he was diagnosed, he quit cold turkey, albeit too late. The anti-smoking ad was one of the local “Hey Vern” commercials right around the time Ernest was set to take over the big screen. It was only a little over a decade later that Varney became incredibly ill from smoking himself.
Ernest lives on today.
With more credits than years to the name Ernest P. Worrell, Varney had immortalized his classic character. With advertising credits as early as 1983, movies as early as “Ernest Goes to Camp” in 1987 and unfinished work as late as 2000’s “Ernest the Pirate,” which was never released due to his untimely death at the age of 50, there’s a wide array of Worrell greatness. Even one of the local auto malls immortalized Ernest as a CGI character. Whether or not you’ve enjoyed Ernest as earnestly as some children did, there’s no end to the mark made by this talented man, one both irreplaceable and deeply missed.
“Life’s just a bus stop to somewhere infinitely better.” -Jim Varney