John R. Cherry III, Ernest P. Worrell Creator, Dead at 73

Veteran filmmaker John R. Cherry III has died. Cherry, best known for creating the character of Ernest P. Worrell, who was portrayed by late actor Jim Varney, passed away Sunday morning following "a long and well-fought battle with Parkinson's disease," the official Ernest P. Worrell Facebook page announced. Cherry was 73.

Referring to him as "Buster," the statement remembered Cherry as a "brilliant man," adding that he was "kind, amazingly funny, generous and had a heart of gold." It went on to note that in addition to being a writer, Cherry "was also an amazing artist, a skilled fisherman, and an all-around amazing human being." The statement added, "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."

Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1948, Cherry originally developed the Ernest character for the Nashville-based Carden and Cherry advertising agency. The beloved character, based on a man who worked with Cherry's father, was portrayed by Varney, who at the time of the character's debut was an up-and-coming stand-up comic. After first appearing in a string of commercials and sketches, Cherry created the first film in the series, Ernest Goes to Camp, as well as the TV series Hey, Vern! It's Ernest, both starring Varney. Several more films followed throughout the '80s and '90s, with Cherry directing all but Ernest Goes to School. He also made cameos in three of the films – Slam Dunk Ernest, Ernest Goes to Africa and Ernest in the Army. The Ernest character was eventually retired amid Varney's declining health.

"I want you all to know how much he loved hearing from you and seeing your love of Ernest," the Sunday statement addressed Ernest fans. "Those of you who came out to meet him at Ernest Day, often bringing your children with you and telling him how you introduced your kids to Ernest and how they now love the movies too...it truly made his day. I will never forget the joy in his eyes after that first Ernest Day. You truly have no idea how much hearing those stories and seeing the love you still all have for his creations meant to him. Thank you so much for loving Ernest and bringing Buster so much joy over the years, especially in these last several years that have been so difficult for him. You truly brought him insurmountable joy in some of his darkest moments."

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Cherry is survived by his three children – Josh, Emilie, and Chapman. At this time, funeral arrangements have not been made. The Sunday statement concluded, "The world is definitely a little darker today without his light."