Advertising exec John Cherry, creator of ‘Ernest’ character, dies at age 73

John Cherry, the Nashville advertising executive who created the “Ernest” character, died on Sunday. He was 73.
Published: May. 8, 2022 at 2:32 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - John Cherry, the Nashville advertising executive who created the “Ernest” character, died on Sunday. He was 73.

Cherry was executive vice president and co-namesake of the Nashville-based Carden and Cherry advertising agency, for which the “Ernest” character was developed. Jim Varney portrayed Ernest for 15 years, moving from advertisements to feature movies.

Cherry passed away Sunday morning after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, according to a post on the Ernest P. Worrell Facebook page.

Unfortunately, I have some devastating news to share with you all. Our beloved John Cherry passed away this morning...

Posted by Ernest P. Worrell Official on Sunday, May 8, 2022

“‘Buster,’ as his friends lovingly knew him by, was probably the most brilliant man I’ve ever met. 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,” Melissa Laster, the administrator of the Ernest P. Worrell page, said in a statement. “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.”

Carden and Cherry was purchased by bohan in the late 1990s and the Carden and Cherry named was dropped from the company’s name in the early 2000s.

“John Cherry was truly one of the pioneers of Nashville’s advertising industry. I am grateful that the bohan agency has ties to John and the legacy he leaves as a creative force and genuinely kind man,” bohan President and CEO Shari Day said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”

Cherry released his memoir in 2013, “Keeper of the Clown: My Life With Ernest” and participated in Ernest Days to meet with fans.

According to his book, he created Ernest to promote an event at a Kentucky amusement park. The popularity grew after the airing and was picked up by regional big names such as Purity Dairies, based in Nashville. He was a staple in Purity commercials throughout the 1980s and eventually hit the big screen. The character was retired as Varney battled lung cancer, dying in February 2000 at age 50.

Cherry is survived by his wife Ruthie and three children, Josh, Emilie and Chapman.

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