John Y. Brown Jr., KFC Mogul, Dead at 88

John Y. Brown Jr., the former Democratic governor of Kentucky and Kentucky Fried Chicken mogul, has died at 88. He will forever be remembered as a restaurant magnate who built KFC into a global fast-food phenomenon. "Our Dad, John Y. Brown Jr., not only dreamed the impossible dream, he lived it until the very end. His positive attitude and zest for life was unrivaled and allowed him to beat the odds many times over," CNN's anchor and senior Washington correspondent Pamela Brown said in a statement confirming his passing. "Every day was an exciting adventure for him. He was a true Kentucky original who beamed with pride for his home state and its people. He had many prominent accomplishments, but most of all he loved his family with all of his heart, and we in turn loved him with all of our hearts. We are heartbroken by his passing, but find comfort in what he wrote in one of his final days, 'I have never been so happy.'"

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1933, Brown was a hard worker who paid his way through college and law school at the University of Kentucky as one of Encyclopedia Britannica's top salesmen. He served in the US Army Reserve before co-purchasing KFC from Harland Sanders in 1964.  It was Brown who would transform the beloved chicken spot into a household name. At one point, KFC became the largest fast-food service in the world.

He sold KFC in 1971. Later, he became financially involved in multiple sports teams before he embarked on a career in politics. Using his recognition from fast food and sports, he won a successful bid for governor, which he headed up from 1979 to 1983. His popular campaign slogan, "Running government like a business," leaned on his corporate credentials and media-friendly presence.

While acting as governor, Brown brought unprecedented commerce to the state and reduced the state budget by more than 20%. He also had a diverse cabinet, more so than previous administrations. It's a model the establishment continues to use today. 

In 2009, he was honored by Harvard Business School as one of the top American business leaders in the 20th century. News of his passing prompted an immediate outpouring of messages from political figures in and out of Kentucky.


He's received much love and admiration in tribute posts since news of his death spread. Gov. Andy Beshear praised Brown as "a remarkable leader who was committed to serving the people of Kentucky." He added: "He made our commonwealth a better place. Britainy and I are praying for his family and loved ones," Beshear, a Democrat, said in a tweet.

Funeral arrangements have been made. Visitation will take place Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the Kentucky Capitol rotunda where Brown will lie in state. Visitation is open to the public from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. A private service will be held in the rotunda on the day before. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Sanders Brown Center on Aging, which Brown helped found.