'He loved to make everybody laugh!' Son remembers John Cherry: director of the Ernest films

John Cherry
Posted at 7:35 PM, Jun 13, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — With just a few days until Father's Day, one of the best ways to know a dad is to know what makes him laugh. For that reason, a local man says many people kind of knew his dad, even if they never met him. This is a story about fathers, legacies, and a face and name you may know.

"This had to be '85, '86," said Josh Cherry, thumbing through an old photo album. "There's my dad."

Josh feels lucky to have grown up with a dad with such a creative soul.

"John Cherry," said Josh, flipping to another picture of his dad. "He just loved to laugh, and he loved to make everybody laugh."

Through the 70s and 80s, Josh's dad directed thousands of commercials. The commercials included Chex cereal, Sprite, and Purity Dairy.

A lot of the commercials starred someone seen in the old album — actor Jim Varney. Many know him as his iconic character Ernest.

"My dad, he created all the Ernest films and the Ernest character with Jim Varney," said Josh. "Dad decided to film all the Ernest commercials at my house."

The old ads were often Ernest pestering his forever tortured unseen neighbor, Vern. Then, there was the signature line.

"Knowwutimean?" laughed Josh.

The commercials were so loved that they led to a multi-picture deal with Disney.

John shot a lot of the series locally, including Ernest Goes To Camp, shot at Montgomery Bell State Park. The old Tennessee State Prison is where they shot scenes of Ernest Goes To Jail. Five Points was the backdrop for Ernest Scared Stupid.

"Right here is the turtles from Ernest Goes To Camp," said Josh, showing some prop turtles on parachutes.

"There's me in the scene where the Coke machine falls on Ernest," Josh said, showing an old picture.

"Here's the Ernest Saves Christmas clapper they used in the film. These are the classic Slam Dunk Ernest shoes."

John Cherry's final Ernest film came out in 1998. Jim Varney died of lung cancer two years later.

"Varney passed away and then dad found out he had Parkinson's," said Josh. "It was really hard to see him go down that, that path where he couldn't draw or paint like he used to, and it really took a toll."

Josh's dad died last month. People never stopped loving his movies.

On Saturday, Montgomery Bell State Park held their annual Ernest Day.

"The comedy, man!" said fan Fredrick Russell. "The wackiness! The goofiness! As a kid, your imagination just goes through the roof."

Some series actors were there.

"I got my own action figure!" laughed actor Daniel Butler, showing a fanmade action figure of his role as the sheriff in Ernest Scared Stupid. "They finally made an action figure! Oh my gosh!"

The Ernest Day crowd also left messages for John.

"I loved Ernest, and I love that you loved him too," said one woman, writing into a little book.

"You brought the world so much joy through Ernest," added another man.

"Thank you for letting kids know it's cool to have fun in the country!" one woman wrote.

"Ernest was the friend we all needed," a man wrote.

"I feel I shared my dad with the world," said Josh. "Ernest had that generousness and kindness that I definitely feel was from my dad, and that's kinda where you get that, that feeling."

"Hey, I want to thank you all for coming out and memorializing my father as well as watching his film," Josh told the crowd gathered in the park to watch the movie under the stars.

A showing of Ernest Goes To Camp was about to start.

"It is a point of pride that I can say, 'hey, you heard of the Ernest movies?' Yeah, my dad made those," said Josh. "That's what my dad did. He made goofy stuff, and I love him for it. A great dad. A fantastic dad."