Jim Varney, 50, the rubbernecked comic best known for his hokey but adored character Ernest, died of lung cancer Thursday at his home in White House, Tenn., near Nashville. Varney first rose to prominence in the 1980s in a series of regional commercials. He played the excitable, in-your-face character Ernest P. Worrell. He parlayed Ernest into a series of national commercials and nine "Ernest" movies (some for the large screen and others for the small), including "Ernest Goes to Camp." He also provided the voice of Slinky Dog in "Toy Story" and "Toy Story II." Varney's cancer was diagnosed in August 1998. Despite the illness, last year he filmed "Daddy and Them," directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who in a statement called Varney "a great talent and extraordinary human being."
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