For many people, actor Jim Varney will always be remembered for his recurring role as dim-witted good ol’ boy Ernest P. Worrell – a silly fellow who meant well, but continually aggravated his neighbor and friend Vern. However, for Nashville student Alexander Weber, the late Varney (who died in 2000 after a battle with lung cancer) is more like a saint.
While we all remember Varney’s bug-eyed antics, what we didn’t know is that the late actor – who starred in seemingly countless Hollywood films as his Ernest character (who, in some ways, feels almost like a precursor to Larry the Cable Guy and Tyler Perry’s Madea, if you can believe that) was also a bit of a philanthropist. His greatest gift was arguably The Jim Varney Scholarship, an award that gives a student a full-ride scholarship to UCLA (worth $300,000). Weber is the first winner since Varney’s passing.
The main requirements for winning include being from Tennessee or Kentucky and a desire to launch an acting career while majoring in another field. Weber met the prereqs, so now he’ll be attending school in Southern California for the next several years.
If the requirements seem a little strange, it’s only because they tend to mirror Varney’s own life. The actor attended UCLA after getting bit with the acting bug at a young age. When he couldn’t find work in Hollywood, he returned to Nashville, hooked up with ad man John Cherry, and came up with the Ernest character.
Those early days were filled with making regional advertisements for local dairies, aluminum-siding companies and other small businesses. Each Ernest ad was marked by his catchphrase “You know what I mean, Vern?” and his silly shenanigans.
The character eventually made the jump from commercials to feature films and headlined nine movies before Varney’s untimely passing. Not too shabby for a regional TV commercial pitchman, eh?
While Varney’s cinematic legacy will always be linked to the silly character he created (which is at least a little unfortunate. Varney was not an untalented performer and he had numerous roles over the years besides playing Ernest, including providing the voice for Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story films), it’s nice to see that even 13 years after his passing, the actor is still helping young performers chase their dreams.
[via WSMV and Wikipedia]