James Albert "Jim" Varney, Jr. (June 15, 1949 - February 10, 2000) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, musician, writer, voice artist, and comedian, best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, who was used in numerous television commercial campaigns and movies in the following years, giving Varney fame worldwide.
Varney was born James Albert Varney, Jr., the fourth child and only son of Louise (née Howard; January 14, 1913 – August 22, 1994) and James Albert Varney, Sr. (January 1, 1910 – January 11, 1985), on June 15, 1949 in Lexington, Kentucky, where he grew up.
As a child, Varney displayed the ability to memorize long poems and significant portions of material from books, which he used to entertain family and friends. When Varney was a boy, his mother would put the black and white TV on cartoons for him to watch. His mother discovered that Varney quickly began to imitate the cartoon characters, so she started him in children’s theater when he was 8 years old. Varney began his interest in theater as a teenager, winning state titles in drama competitions while a student at Lafayette High School (from which he graduated with the class of 1968) in Lexington. He attended Murray State University at the age of 15, where he portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in a local theater production, and by 17 he was performing professionally in nightclubs and coffee houses. Varney studied Shakespeare at the Barter Theatre in Virginia and performed in an Opryland folk show its first year of operation in the 1970s. He listed a former teacher, Thelma Beeler, as being one of the main contributing factors in his becoming an actor. When he was 24, Varney was an actor at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky. The theater was adjacent to an old West Village and prior to the show the audience would tour the village where apprentices would play townsfolk. Varney and the company usually played in the outdoor theater to audiences of only a few dozen people. Varney would regale the young apprentices by throwing knives into trees. He performed in "Blithe Spirit", "Boeing 707" and an original musical, "Fire on the Mountain." He once jokingly threatened a long-haired apprentice, John Lino Ponzini, that he would take him up to Hazard, Kentucky where he (Ponzini) wouldn't make it down Main Street without the townsfolk giving him a crewcut.