Friday February 11 4:09 AM ET 'Ernest' Actor Jim Varney Dies At 50 By JIM PATTERSON Associated Press Writer NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Friends recall Jim Varney as a gifted comic actor often overshadowed by his success at playing a doofus in the popular series of ``Ernest'' movies and hundreds of commercials. The rubbery face of Varney, who died on Thursday at 50, portrayed Ernest P. Worrell - a slapstick character who peddled cars, milk, pizza and many other products in television pitches. ``I don't know how many times I have heard a writer say about a script, 'This isn't funny,''' said John Cherry of Carden & Cherry, the advertising firm that produced the Ernest ads. ``I'd always respond, 'Don't worry, Varney will make it funny.' He could stand up there and really do it.'' Varney died of lung cancer at his home in White House, Tenn., north of Nashville, said Hoot Gibson, his attorney. Varney had been sick since 1998 but kept working into last year, including a role in ``Daddy and Them,'' a film directed by Billy Bob Thornton. ``Any of us who knew Jim well know that the world will never exactly know what a great talent and extraordinary human being we have lost,'' Thornton said in a statement. ``I loved him dearly.'' In commercials, Ernest got his fingers slammed in a house window, fell off a ladder and got electrically shocked fooling with a broken TV set. He always wore blue jeans, a T-shirt, a denim vest and a baseball cap. Ernest was hapless and harmless as he endlessly pestered his unseen neighbor, ``Vern.'' His catch phrases were ``Hey Vern'' and ``Know-what I-mean?'' ``Ernest is a neighbor or relative that we've all had at one time,'' he once said. ``He's abrasive, but he doesn't mean to be. He gets excited and ends up standing on your toes. I try to make him clownish and I don't want him too low key; and he's physically funny.'' Varney made nine movies as Ernest, a one-man ``Three Stooges'' with cartoonish features and a penchant for pratfalls. But he had a long list of credits beyond the character, including a 1993 starring role as Jed Clampett in the movie version of the television series ``The Beverly Hillbillies.'' His voice was featured in cartoons including ``The Simpsons'' and ``Duckman,'' and he voiced Slinky Dog in ``Toy Story'' and its 1999 sequel. He also had a recurring role on the series ``Roseanne.'' Born in Lexington, Ky., Varney began acting in local theater at 8. By 16, he was playing Shakespeare in a professional theater. He sought his acting fortune in New York at 18 and slogged through off-Broadway, dinner theaters and comedy clubs. Varney did his first commercial as Ernest in 1972, and the character soon became his specialty. Between 1987 and 1990, he was in four Ernest movies for Disney. Five other Ernest films were released independently, mainly for the video market. Without any publicity, Varney often dressed as Ernest and visited children in hospitals, Cherry said. ``He would just leave them sore, they'd be laughing so hard,'' he said.