John Cherry

John Cherry poses with a piece of the Ernest Goes to Camp set

Really sad news, Vern. One of the men who brought Ernest P. Worrell to life has died. 

Filmmaker John Cherry died Sunday after a long battle with Parkinson's disease at the age of 73.

"Buster, as his friends lovingly knew him by, was probably the most brilliant man I've ever met," reads a post from Melissa Laster on a Facebook page dedicated to the iconic character portrayed by Jim Varney. "Even as Parkinson's began to rob him of some things, that creative mind of his was always going full-force to the best of its ability.

"He was kind, amazingly funny, generous and had a heart of gold. In addition to being a brilliant writer, he was also an amazing artist, a skilled fisherman and an all-around amazing human being."

Cherry, a longtime resident of Williamson County, helped create the lovable good ol' boy Ernest character for his ad agency Carden and Cherry, alongside then-rising stand-up comic Varney in the role that would wind up defining both of their careers. The character was created to help advertise a then-rundown Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky.

In a 1990 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Cherry described the appeal that Ernest had during the advertising days. 

"Every time we do a study on who Ernest appeals to, it’s the under-13 and over-35 age groups,” Cherry said at the time. ”If you’re under 13, it’s OK, and when you’re over 35, you know it doesn’t count anymore — you don’t have to be cool.”

The Ernest character first was used in regional advertisements (including an eight-year run with Nashville's Purity Dairies) and in short comedy skits before he hosted a direct-to-video special, Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It's My Family Album, in 1983. He made his theatrical debut in 1985's subversive cult film Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam, which saw Varney play seven roles, including Ernest, the titular Dr. Otto and his recurring character Auntie Nelda. That film started Cherry's longtime practice of mainly shooting the Ernest films in and around Nashville. 

Cherry is survived by his children Josh, Emilie and Chapman. Funeral arrangements are incomplete. 

A previous version of this article ran via our sister publication, Williamson Home Page.

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