Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina

REWIND: Bizarre Death And Mysterious Burial Of Hollywood Oscar Winner

- June 17th, 2013

 

The best-read Nosey Parker blog post ever — by a long shot — was a piece I did back in May 2011 called The Dog That Cornered Osama Bin Laden on the Navy SEAL war dog named Cairo. I think some very popular dog websites and discussion groups had posted prominent links to the piece, because there was massive readership of that piece for MONTHS. Years even. The story ended up being included in a book about war dogs.

Another 2011 blog post that’s been getting a lot of recent activity — much less than the Cairo piece, of course — is the one I’m rerunning here. Because of the Cairo phenomenon, I was curious if this piece on Gig Young was spiking again two years after it appeared because it was being pointed to by a special-interest network — on old Hollywood this time instead of dogs.

So I added a note at the end of the piece asking readers to tell me how they came to it. Turns out there was no organized promotion going on, just people who had been watching Gig Young movies on DVD or TV and then searching the Internet to find out more about the actor and his films.

There must be an awful lot of people looking at Gig Young movies and then reading the Nosey Parker blog post on him because a Google search for “Gig Young” gives you his Wikipedia entry first (of course) and then, in second spot, the Nosey Parker piece, ahead of even his IMDb link.

Although I’m repeating the blog post here, I’m also including this link to the story as it originally appeared back on March 2, 2011, for anyone who wants to check out the string of comments attached to it.

I’m doing this because I’ll be away for a couple of weeks and out of Internet contact, so I thought I’d leave something fairly interesting on this space while I’m gone. It’s a long piece too, so you can read it in two or three sittings if you’d prefer. Take your time. See you later.

___________________________________

 

gig_young

Almost nobody remembers Gig Young now, but 41 years ago he was the toast of Hollywood.

The Academy Awards for 1969 were presented on the evening of April 7, 1970, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

It was the second year the Oscars were televised worldwide and it was also the second year there was no host — a brief interregnum between the Bob Hope era and most of the 1970s when hosting was done by committee (before one last hurrah for Bob Hope and the beginning of the Johnny Carson era).

Winning the Oscar for Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated film in the history of the Academy Awards to win Best Picture.

John Wayne got the only Oscar of his career as Best Actor for his role of crusty Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and Maggie Smith won Best Actress as an eccentric Scottish teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Goldie Hawn (in  one of those typical Oscar “huh?” decisions) got the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Cactus Flower.

And the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor goes to … Gig Young for his performance as Rocky, the sleazy and manipulative promoter of a Depression-era dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

gig young

They-Shoot-Horses-Dont-Th-006

It was a popular choice in Hollywood, where Gig Young had established himself over the previous 30 years as a charming, genial party guy who often played the role of a charming, genial lush onscreen  — and on the Tonight Show couch as a frequent, amusing guest of Johnny Carson.

ComeFill

Young had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice before, for 1951′s Come Fill The Cup and 1958′s Teacher’s Pet, but the 1969 win was the pinnacle of his career — and the beginning of the end.

Actually the beginning of the end for Gig Young began with the birth of Byron Elsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on Nov. 4, 1913.

For most of the next three decades, Gig Young was Byron Barr, a charming, genial kid and aspiring actor.

According to most biographies, Byron was raised in Washington, D.C. (more about that later) before winning a scholarship at the end of high school to the famous Pasadena Community Playhouse in California, where he worked on his acting chops before being picked up as a contract bit player by Warner Bros. in the late 1930s.

The young actor was still known as Byron Barr — and got the occasional screen credit under that name — until his breakout role in 1942′s The Gay Sisters, in which he played a character named … Gig Young.

Warner Bros. decided “Gig Young” was a catchier name than “Byron Barr” (and — unbelievable as it may seem — there was another young supporting actor kicking around Hollywood at the time also named Byron Barr) so “Byron Barr” stopped being a charming, amiable second-string actor and “Gig Young” stopped being a movie character’s name.

younggig

Gig Young, actor, then reverted to Byron Barr, pharmacist’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard, for the duration of World War II.

When the war ended and Byron Barr returned to civilian life, Warner Bros. dropped his contract. But Byron Barr decided to keep his Warner Bros. stage name and Gig Young quickly became a solid, busy Hollywood presence in movies like Wake of the Red Witch, The Three Musketeers and Only the Valiant.

gigyoungshot

In the mid 1950s he was hosting the television series Warner Bros. Presents while keeping up his busy movie career and busier social life.

By 1956 he was on to his third wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of famed Hollywood actor Robert Montgomery. Elizabeth Montgomery would go on to superstardom in the 1960s as Samantha Stephens, the nose-twitching hexess in TV’s Bewitched (1964-72).

Elizabeth-and-husband-Gig-Young-elizabeth-montgomery-7203807-447-281

But first she had to dump Gig Young. Montgomery divorced him in 1963, citing physical and emotional abuse fuelled by her husband’s alcoholism.

elizabeth_montgomery

The Gig Young party gig was starting to run low on steam, but there were still two more wives, a pretty good TV series called The Rogues and that 1969 Academy Award to go before the whole charming, amiable Gig Young persona blew apart in a million pieces.

He married his fourth wife, Hollywood real estate agent Elaine Williams, shortly after the Montgomery divorce and daughter Jennifer — Byron Barr/Gig Young’s only child — came along in April 1964.

Gig&baby

Of course, Williams was divorcing Barr/Young within three years (physical-emotional abuse/alcoholism) and in the subsequent child support proceedings Barr/Young proclaimed that Jennifer was not his biological child and he was not responsible for her upkeep. The court ruled against him, but more about that later.

So Gig Young staggered into the 1970s, clutching his Oscar, with a few more movie roles to come but far more trouble.

Typical was his experience in 1973 when Mel Brooks picked Gig Young to play the Waco Kid — a role ultimately assumed by Gene Wilder — in the groundbreaking western comedy Blazing Saddles.

Blazing_saddles_movie_poster

Let’s let Mel Brooks tell you what happened on the first day of filming when Cleavon Little’s character Bart and the Waco Kid (Gig Young), a broken-down, drunken gunslinger, meet for the first time in jail:

“We draped Gig Young’s legs over and hung him upside down. And he started to talk and he started shaking. I said, ‘This guy’s giving me a lot. He is giving plenty. He’s giving me the old alky shake. Great.’ And then it got serious, because the shaking never stopped, and green stuff started spewing out of his mouth and nose, and he started screaming. And, I said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.’ If you want an alcoholic, don’t cast an alcoholic… Anyway, poor Gig Young, it was the first shot on Friday, nine in the morning, and an ambulance came and took him away. I had no movie.”

Gene Wilder flew from New York to Los Angeles over the weekend and was playing the Waco Kid on Monday morning, but that’s another story.

The DTs didn’t deter Gig Young and he was still firmly on his downward spiral when he hooked up with director Sam Peckinpah (another guy on a downward spiral) to make a couple of ultra-violent, nihilistic movies — 1974′s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and 1975′s The Killer Elite.

(It seems to be during the making of these films that Gig Young started collecting guns.)

BringMeTheHead

There were two more movies after that and one more marriage before Gig Young’s ignominious end.

Young was an invisible presence in a terrible movie, The Hindenburg, also released in 1975, and then he hit rock bottom in 1978 when he was cast in a patchwork reworking of an unreleased kung-fu movie called Game of Death — incomplete footage of which was shot prior to star Bruce Lee’s death in 1973.

images

So Gig Young’s last movie had him in a minor supporting role to an action star who had been totally inactive for five years.

Not really a good mental and emotional place to be for his fifth marriage on Sept. 27, 1978, to 31-year-old German actress Kim Schmidt (sometimes erroneously listed as 21 and sometimes erroneously listed as Australian).

I’m not sure why Kim Schmidt married him — maybe it was true love, maybe it was Oscar love, maybe it was just something to do — but it was a bad decision.

Three weeks after the wedding Gig Young ended the marriage in their condo apartment, Suite 1BB of the Osborne Apartments on West 57th Street in New York City, on Oct. 19, 1978.

He ended it by loading a Smith & Wesson .38-calibre revolver — one of many, many firearms he kept in the apartment — and putting one slug through his wife’s head and one slug through the roof of his mouth.

Gig Young 2

Exit, Gig Young.

But not gracefully.

Adding insult to felonious injury, his will left the bulk of his estate to his 1970s agent, Marty Baum of CAA, and $10 to his putative daughter, Jennifer Young. (How creepy is that, taking as your real last name the fictional name of a guy who had disowned you as his daughter?)

In the end, it was up to Gig Young’s sister, Genevieve Barr Merry, to bury her brother. Which she did, in the Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina.

And that is where Gig Young’s story ends and mine begins.

A couple of years ago, I took an extended road trip down the east coast of the U.S., partly to write travel stories, partly to heal wounds of a dissolved marriage and partly to feed an eccentric hobby of mine — visiting the graves of interesting dead people.

I must admit that Gig Young didn’t meet the main criterion of my search for dead people — for the most past they were people I admired or, at least, could stand in awe of.

People like Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone (a simple stone on a rural hillside in the Finger Lakes district of upper New York); Mark Twain ( a grotesque monument in Elmira, N.Y., erected 30 years after his death by his daughter to jointly honour her dead Russian composer husband); Billie Burke, the actress who played the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, alongside her previously deceased/bankrupt husband Flo Ziegfield of Ziegfield Follies fame (simple graves on a hilltop outside New York City shaded by a huge statue Burke erected in honour of her mother). People like that.

But my ultimate destination was North Carolina, the place of my birth and the place where I had scattered my father’s ashes over his parents’ graves the better part of a decade earlier.

I was doing some travel writing/gathering up in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains first and that was where I stumbled across the fact that Gig Young was buried in Waynesville.

That was also when I became aware that Young — an actor I was very familiar with from my childhood — had died in a bizarre murder-suicide. And I couldn’t figure out what he was doing buried in a small mountain town in North Carolina , far away from Hollywood and New York City and even Washington, D.C., where he supposedly grew up.

So driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway chasing 19th Century inns, steam locomotives and a moonshiner named Popcorn Sutton, I stopped off at the Green Hill Cemetery on a hot, sunny June afternoon to look up Gig Young.

One major thing that distinguishes American cemeteries from Canadian cemeteries is the number of little flags erected at gravesites. Those flags are usually put there by the American Legion and other post-service fellowships to honour departed members.

10370009

In a normal U.S. cemetery, a third to a half of the graves will be showing flags, in part because of higher American war death tolls in the past half century and in part because mandatory conscription — and thus an extended base of former military personnel — was in effect in the U.S. from the early 1940s through the 1970s.

Then there’s another quirk: The further south you travel, the more Confederate flags you see intermingled with United States flags in cemeteries. Those flags are maintained by organizations like the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy to honour the southern dead of a war fought 150 years ago.

I tell you this because the Green Hill Cemetery is so old it has far more graves sprouting Confederate flags than U.S. flags.

I like cemeteries: They’re calm and peaceful and have interesting stories to tell. And I generally like people who work in cemeteries: They tend to be calm and peaceful and have interesting stories to tell too.

And when you’re looking for a needle — one single grave — in a haystack — a cemetery with anywhere between 300 and 300,000 (Arlington) graves — the people who work there are a good place to start the search.

Since there aren’t usually a lot of living people in a cemetery on a midweek afternoon, it didn’t take long to find caretaker Lonnie Higgins.

Lonnie was a nice guy but a fairly young guy, cemeterily speaking, so he didn’t have quite the sense of historical ownership I was looking for.

Lonnie could direct me to a grist stone once operated by Daniel Boone (everything in the mountains of North Carolina has some connection to Daniel Boone), to the car dealer buried in a Model T Ford and to the grave of the very last serving Confederate officer (Alden Howell, died 1947 age 106), but he had no idea who Gig Young or Byron Barr was or where he was buried.

Lonnie thought a little more.

“And we’ve got that actress here, the one from Bewitched.”

“Elizabeth Montgomery?” I asked in disbelief.

“No, not Samantha. Her mother.”

“Agnes Moorehead?”

“I guess. I heard she was buried here but I’ve never seen her grave myself.”

That was just too weird: The guy once married to Elizabeth Montgomery and the woman who once played her mother on TV buried in the same rural cemetery in the middle of nowhere.

And then, thankfully, Fred Rathbone drove up in his truck.

10370010

Fred was the former Green Hill caretaker, retired now, but the main man for 35 years and the repository of knowledge I had been looking for.

And yes, Fred was related to Basil Rathbone, the Sherlock Holmes actor whose urn crypt in a New York mausoleum I had recently been locked out of.

“He was my daddy’s second or third cousin.”

Well, everybody in North Carolina is pretty much related to everybody else, including Daniel Boone, so the Rathbone connection was no surprise.

With the pleasantries over, I asked Fred about Gig Young.

“Oh, yes, he’s here but not under that name. Under the family name.”

“Barr?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I’ve seen it many times but I don’t remember right where now. Over that way somewhere. There’s a family monument and then the individual markers.”

“And Agnes Moorehead? She’s buried here too?”

Fred looked confused.

“Lonnie told me Agnes Moorehead, the mother from Bewitched, is buried here too.”

Fred’s furrowed brow cleared.

“Oh, no. The Bewitched connection is to Gig Young. He was married to Samantha, you know. Lonnie just got his witches mixed up.”

Lonnie and Fred and I had a good chuckle about that one.

So Lonnie and Fred went on talking and watching birds and listening to the wind in the trees while I went grave hunting.

And about 45 minutes later — after finally turning 90 degrees from the direction Fred had pointed me in — I found the Barr family plot.

10370013

And under the Barr monument there were five gravestones:

John E. Barr 1877-1975

Emma C. Barr 1879-1944

Donald E. Barr 1906-1949

Floyd H. Barr 1883-1969

Byron E. Barr 1913-1978

So there was Gig Young, buried with his family under a modest stone stained with I don’t know what, except maybe shame.

10370015

I went to find Fred and Lonnie and showed them the grave.

Fred told me John and Emma were Gig/Byron’s parents, Donald was his older brother and Floyd was his uncle.

And Fred told me Gig/Byron’s father, John, had served in the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1899-1901) with Fred’s grandfather.

“So the family was here for a long time?”

“Oh yeah, they owned a cannery.”

“Well, all the published information says Gig … um, Byron … was born in Minnesota and grew up in Washington.”

“Well, John and Emma were away for a while but they came back when Byron was six or so and he grew up here. That’s for sure. I grew up with him. I was a lot younger than he was but I saw him around.”

So that’s why Gig Young is buried in Waynesville, N.C. At the end of his sad, broken life, his sister took him home to be buried with his family in the little mountain town where he spent his childhood.

And that’s pretty much it.

Except for the daughter, Jennifer.

JenniferFacebook

Even though her father had denied her and spurned her in his will, Jennifer Young grew up in Hollywood claiming some reflected glory from her famous/infamous father/non-father.

She has a music career of sorts now and is trying to find backers for a documentary on her father, but she was known as a fixture on the Hollywood party scene for years and made headlines in the past 15 years for two things.

1. Jennifer was BFF and former roommate of Beverly Hills madam Heidi Fleiss, although Jennifer denied persistent accusations that she was one of Heidi’s stable of high-priced Hollywood hookers. Charlie Sheen, a Heidi client, could shed more light on that if he didn’t have troubles of his own that probably outweigh most self-inflicted career setbacks endured by Jennifer’s father/non-father. (I really think Charlie should take a good look at Gig Young’s lifestyle choices. But he won’t. See you at the end of the road, Charlie.)

hfleiss

2. In the mid-1990s, Jennifer launched a highly publicized campaign to get possession of her father’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar from agent Marty Baum, who had claimed it in a round-about way under the terms of Gig Young’s will. In a tripartite agreement involving Baum, Jennifer Young and the Academy  of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (legal owners of the statue), Baum agreed to turn over the Oscar to Jennifer on his death.

MartyOscar

Well, Marty Baum died in November 2010. Jennifer Young got the Oscar in December and the Academy says she can keep it for 48 weeks of every year until she dies. That’s about as close to a happy ending as this story can get.

Oscar

REWIND: Popcorn Sutton, Moonshiner

- June 16th, 2012

I wrote this piece in May 2009, shortly after Popcorn Sutton died. I hadn’t thought about Popcorn for a while, but recently a few people who knew Popcorn have stumbled across the original blog post and added comments which got me thinking about the tough old moonshiner again. Here’s looking at you (again), Popcorn.

NOTE: There are some significant updates at the end of the original piece.

Popcorn Sutton at Misty Mountain Ranch B&B
Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton stands on the front porch of Misty Mountain
Ranch B&B near Maggie Valley, N.C.
/Photo courtesy of Peter and Karen Hessian

 

I first heard about Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton on a train rolling through the mountains of North Carolina one evening last June (that would be 2008).

Jim Harbin, who was working for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad at the time, told me about this legendary old moonshiner from Maggie Valley, N.C., who had just been busted again by federal agents for distilling illegal alcohol.

I had to be in the low country the next evening, but I determined to track down Popcorn Sutton, moonshiner extraordinaire, if possible in the short time I had.

Jim warned me to be careful: “I hear he can be a mean man. Hard and mean. Hey, he runs shine INTO Tennessee. You’ve got to be hard to do that.”

The only leads I had for finding Popcorn Sutton were that his base was in a small town (the aforementioned Maggie Valley) near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and that a friend of his, Stuart, worked at a campground somewhere on Balsam Mountain, near where I was staying.

The next morning I started going up one side of Balsam Mountain and down the other looking for the campground and Stuart. I finally found Moonshine Creek Campground down on Dark Ridge Road, way down in a valley at the foot of the mountain.

Well, I never found Stuart but I did find a woman named Cathie in the campground office who knew Popcorn — and, amazingly, I also found some of Popcorn’s honest-to-goodness moonshine there.

Cathieupright

Cathie with some of Popcorn Sutton’s moonshine

Cathie: “I know Popcorn’s out but I don’t know where he is. I’ve heard he’s over in Tennessee.”

Me: “A fella told me last night he was in Maggie Valley.”

Cathie: “Yeah, might be. I’ve heard Maggie Valley. I’ve heard Tennessee. He might have just decided to go to cover for a while.”

And that’s when I noticed two liquid-filled mason jars on a shelf behind her.

Me: “Is that what I think it is?”

Cathie reached up to bring the jars down: “Yes, that’s genuine Popcorn shine. I got it as a birthday present and I just keep it around to give the campers a thrill.”

She unscrewed one of the lids. “You can smell it but don’t drink none.”

With the fumes of that raw alcohol spirit still clearing my sinuses, I headed for Maggie Valley.

Popcorn Sutton’s “antique shop” — more ramshackle garage than anything — was there but closed up tight.

Again, I met people who knew Popcorn — a second-cousin-once-removed and a couple of fourth cousins.

Everyone said roughly the same thing: “He’s over in Tennessee” or “I think he’s still in jail.”

I stopped for lunch at Salty Dog’s Seafood and Grill, where grey-bearded bikers were waiting out a rainstorm drinking beer and eating oysters on the half-shell. (Salty Dog’s, by the way, is the best and cheapest fresh-seafood-far-from-the-sea mountain eatery I’ve ever been in — a dozen fried shrimp and fries and three draft beers for a total of $11.06, tax included.)

And of course the waitress was related to Popcorn Sutton.

Me: “He’s got a place here, doesn’t he?”

Waitress nods.

Me: “Can you tell me where.”

Waitress: “No, Popcorn wouldn’t like that.”

Me: “I won’t tell him where I got the address.”

Waitress: “Well, I don’t know you and I don’t know what you would or wouldn’t do. But I’ve known Popcorn since I was a little girl and I sure do know what he’d do if he found out I’d told you something about him.”

So that was that. One last question for the waitress: “How old’s Popcorn.”

“Oh, he’d be 55-56, somewhere’s around there.”

What? This “mean, old SOB” (as people had been describing him) was younger than me? Great.

So that ended my day of searching for Popcorn Sutton in the Great Smoky Mountains. I headed to the lowlands through rain that turned mountain roads into rivers and lightning and thunder that sent wild turkeys racing madly through the woods.

I did find Popcorn a few months later, but not in person — I talked to him on the telephone in September (again, 2008).

And he was nowhere near Balsam Mountain or Maggie Valley. That was a wild goose chase. He was across the state line, under house arrest in his other home in Parrottsville, Cocke County, Tenn.

I found Popcorn through Peter and Karen Hessian, two of his longtime friends and supporters, who own the Misty Mountain Ranch B&B near Maggie Valley. Popcorn was a regular visitor to Misty Mountain, where he would often play the banjo on the front porch for guests.

That was the nice side of Popcorn. The “mean, old SOB” side of him explains how he got his nickname. One evening about 40 years ago Sutton was trying to get a dime’s worth of popcorn out of a dispensing machine in a bar. The vending machine ate the dime but did not produce the popcorn — so Sutton killed it. Depending on who tells the story, he either shot the machine with one of the pistols he carried around at the time or he beat it to death with a pool cue.

And thus the legend of “Popcorn” Sutton began.

Popcorn was arrested, of course, and had to pay to replace the vending machine.

It wasn’t his first brush with the law. Popcorn had already been convicted of moonshining earlier in the 1970s. It was a family business. Popcorn learned the trade from his father and grandfather. He learned to do it right, with the finest equipment (costing about $10,000 per still, Popcorn reckoned) and best ingredients, and he sneered at amateurs who produced deadly rotgut on the cheap.

Here’s the link to a video interview with Popcorn Sutton that Johnny Knoxville posted on his jackassworld blog in February. If the site tells you the video is not available, try again in a few minutes and it will be there. It’s hit or miss.

As a legendary moonshiner, Popcorn became something of a celebrity in the mountains. He wrote a self-published book entitled “Me and My Likker” that sold out and was the subject of a TV documentary, as well as the star of several YouTube videos showing him making moonshine.

book cover

Customers began asking Popcorn to autograph their liquor purchases, so — in true Popcorn Sutton fashion — he took to signing the lids of his jars with this slogan: “F*** You — Popcorn Sutton.”

I was relieved to find out Popcorn really was older than me. When I talked to him on the telephone last September, he was about to turn 62 — although you can see by the accompanying photos that the grizzled, elfin old codger could easily pass for someone in his 80s.

popcorn booking photo
Popcorn Sutton’s March 2008 police booking mugshot

Popcorn was under house arrest at the time, with a tracking device on his arm that kept him within 100 feet of his house, awaiting sentencing on alcohol and gun charges. Federal agents had seized three stills and 850 gallons of moonshine on property he rented in March 2008. He was still on probation from a 2007 moonshining conviction at the time.

He pleaded guilty to the new charges last April.

The gun offences were Popcorn’s biggest concern because, as a previously convicted felon, that meant federal prison time. Popcorn knew he could not do a long spell in prison. He spent 10 days in jail in Greenville, Tenn., after his March arrest and that nearly did him in.

“I almost died from those 10 days in that dungeon in hell. I’m sick, I’ve got three bleeding ulcers, I can’t eat regular food, and I’m addicted to cigarettes. It drove me out of my mind not having my cigarettes those 10 days. That jail wasn’t fit for a dog. And that ‘s nothing compared to the penitentiary. I won’t live two weeks in penitentiary.”

Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents had Popcorn under surveillance for some time before his arrest, but they also had an undercover agent posing as a biker get close to the old moonshiner.

“He bought liquor from me two or three times. I trusted the wrong damn one there. And I make a real mistake showing him my guns. They’re old antique pistols that I kept locked away in a safe — real collector’s items. I never carried them around or anything. They’re just real beauties and I was proud of them, so I made the mistake of showing them off to this fella. Now they want to put me in prison for that.”

Popcorn was living with his fourth wife, Pam, in Parrottsville as we talked. He said he had been “run out” of Maggie Valley, his hometown, the previous year after a falling out with the woman he had lived with there the previous nine years.

And he was flat broke, living on donations and what money his wife earned working three days a week.

“I used to have money. Now I don’t have a dime.”

In his flush days, Popcorn looked to the future and bought himself a fancy coffin, which he kept in his bedroom awaiting the day it would be needed.

For a scrawny little old man with a bushy hillbilly beard, Popcorn always seemed to somehow attract women. And he had a very unique perspective on the kind of women he favoured.

“I like big’uns — 250, 270 pounds, the more the merrier. I like them big legs wrapped around me.”

Popcorn was nervous talking about his case and did not want me to quote him directly while his public defense lawyer tried one last-ditch manoeuvre — an appeal to then-president George W. Bush for a presidential pardon.

“You can’t get a letter to Bush, can you?” Popcorn asked me on the phone in September.

I couldn’t but I told him I would do what I could to help. I let Popcorn down. I got too involved in my own life and put his on the backburner. I should have done more to help a sick old man stay out prison and I didn’t.

Popcorn was not on the Bush end-of-term pardons list.

Two weeks ago, I got a cryptic e-mail from photographer Melody Ko, who had also taken an interest in Sutton. “Did you hear about Popcorn?” was all the message said.

I Googled “Popcorn Sutton” and found out the bad news: The old moonshiner had killed himself the week before.

On Friday, March 13, he finally got the notification to turn himself in at a federal prison in Georgia on March 20 to begin serving his 18-month sentence.

Popcorn thought about it over the weekend.

On Monday, March 16, while his wife was out of the house, Popcorn hooked up a hose from the exhaust to the interior of his old green Ford Fairlane.

Pam Sutton found her husband dead when she returned home. Two days later she buried him in the mountains near Maggie Valley, N.C., in the coffin he had bought many years before.

“He couldn’t go to prison. His mind would just not accept it. … So credit the federal government for my husband being dead. I really do,” she told The Associated Press a few hours after burying Popcorn.

I will visit Popcorn’s grave when I get back to North Carolina, to say goodbye and apologize for not having done more to keep him alive.

I’ll be interested to see if his gravestone has the words he wanted on it:

Popcorn
said
“F***
You”

________________________
UPDATE:
Only a few months after Popcorn Sutton took his own life to escape the malicious persecution of the United States federal government, the state of Tennessee passed a law allowing micro-distilleries — legal moonshine stills, in other words.
Before he died, Popcorn sold his whiskey recipe to a motorcycle racer named Jamey Grosser and the two set up a partnership. With Popcorn’s death, his share of the partnership passed to his wife, Pam. And after micro-distilleries became legal, they brought in a third partner as financial backer — country music singer Hank Williams Jr., who had shown up unannounced at the public memorial service for Popcorn in 2009.
In November 2010, Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey went on sale. Among those attending the launch party in Nashville were Travis Tritt, Martina McBride, Kid Rock, Tanya Tucker and Rodney Atkins. They did Popcorn proud (although he probably would have been a little flumoxed that his “likker” was now legal).
popcorn-whiskey
As for his grave, I haven’t visited it yet. I’ve been back in North Carolina once since then, a flying visit for a family funeral, but I didn’t have time to get up into the mountains. But others have and I’ll pass on what I know from their visits.
Pam Sutton had originally buried her husband in his home state  in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border. But in October 2009 she had his coffin relocated to the grounds of their home in Parrotsville, Tenn. And that’s when the public memorial service attended by Hank Williams Jr. took place. And that’s where Popcorn Sutton’s grave is today.
As you can see from the following photo, posted by David Morgan on Popcorn’s www.findagrave.com listing, the words Popcorn wanted on his headstone aren’t there.
Popcorn-headstone
But, son of a gun, they are on the footstone at his grave. We’ll let Popcorn have the last word.
Popcorn-footstone