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Obituary Of Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, A Tennessee Moonshiner

March 22, 2009

UPDATE WITH “POPCORN” SUTTON VIDEOS…CLICK HERE—watch his old-fashioned memorial service.

As I have stated before, I love a well written, and memorable obituary.  That is why I bring to your attention this great remembrance of Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton from this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal.    I read this while eating breakfast today, and love the imagery that this story conveys.


A scrawny, long-bearded mountain man with a foul mouth and a passing acquaintance with copper tubing and kettles, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton seemed the embodiment of moonshiners of yore.

Brought up in rural Cocke County, Tenn., identified as one of four “moonshine capitals of the world” in the corn-whiskey history “Mountain Spirits,” Mr. Sutton learned the family trade from his father. The practice goes back to the Scots-Irish, who brought it to the New World, and it wasn’t illegal until after the Civil War, says Dan Pierce, chairman of the history department at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

“This is something that legitimately is an expression of the culture of this region,” Mr. Pierce says.

Like his forebears, Mr. Sutton had brushes with the law, and was first convicted of selling untaxed liquor in the early 1970s. He mostly kept out of trouble after that, though friends say his nickname came from an unfortunate encounter with a balky barroom popcorn machine. But he was well known as a distiller around his native Parrottsville.

He was a familiar figure at the Misty Mountain Ranch Bed & Breakfast in nearby Maggie Valley, N.C., wearing faded overalls and with a back stooped, he said, from decades of humping bags of sugar into the hills. He picked the banjo and serenaded guests on the inn’s porch. He helped decorate the $155-a-night Moonshiner suite at the inn with some still hardware.

Mr. Sutton put a modern spin on his vocation, appearing in documentaries and even penning an autobiography, “Me and My Likker.” Souvenir shops in Maggie Valley sold his video, “The Last Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make,” and even clocks with his image on them.

Other moonshiners have gone legit and cashed in; a former Nascar driver and moonshiner now offers Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon in Southern liquor stores. But Mr. Sutton insisted on earning a living the old-fashioned way, and in 2007, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives busted him with 850 gallons of moonshine, stored in an old school bus on his property.

He was convicted in 2008 and was due to report to prison Friday, his widow, Pam Sutton, told the Associated Press. Instead, facing the verdict and ill health, he was found dead by Ms. Sutton at the age of 62 on Monday, and authorities suspect carbon-monoxide poisoning, according to the AP. The Cocke County district attorney’s office said it is investigating the death.

Although Tennessee was once a hotbed of moonshine and federal “revenuers” pursued bootleggers through the hills, an attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Greeneville says he couldn’t remember the last federal prosecution of a moonshiner.

“Modern-day moonshining is the manufacture of methamphetamine,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg L. Sullivan says. “Tennessee is in the top five states nationally.”

Ms. Sutton discovered her husband in his green Ford Fairlane. “He called it his three-jug car,” she told the AP, “because he gave three jugs of liquor for it.”

173 Comments leave one →
  1. Cissy Walshaw permalink
    August 24, 2012 2:18 PM

    Thank you for this post of Popcorn Sutton’s full obituary on your site. I just learned of Mr. Sutton as I was doing some family history research in the East Tennessee area, and I followed the link to your site in order to read his obituary.

    Wonderful site – thank you for all the other fascinating posts, too.

  2. Glenn Tatum permalink
    August 18, 2012 2:08 PM

    Thank you so much Popcorn for your legacy.

  3. Warren Meacher permalink
    August 13, 2012 1:07 AM

    What a total legend! I don’t even drink ‘Likker’ but I found his story on a recent series aired in the UK called ‘Moonshiners’ and I found it fascinating, especially the ‘alternative’ story of the US social and cultural history of which we rearely hear or see anything that isn’t sanctioned by McD’s or Coke. It really reminds me of the modern witch-hunt regarding home-growm marijuana, another expensive and pointless persecution of ordinary people trying to retain old-world practices and being relentlessly hassled by ‘the man’ whilst the G-men continue to support murderous and persecuting regimes. I found the end story very hard to beat tho’, is this the way that all really ‘good’ people go : the only truly free choice left for such people is to give up what they love doing or take their own lives rather than suffer in the jails of the Gmen? A truly moving and remarkable story, thanx Popcorn, you’re a true inspiration. I hope you’re swimmin’ in rivers of yr damn likker now”

  4. John Bush permalink
    June 9, 2012 2:08 AM

    I drank a couple gallons of Popcorns moonshine back in 1992 While spending the Holidays with me family in Grassy fork. BEST I EVER HAD ! I wish, I had ten more gallons, to wash away the bad taste of what our Goverment did to him. RIP Popcorn

  5. red permalink
    June 8, 2012 9:11 AM


  6. April 15, 2012 10:28 PM

    I am a Yankee and a Motorcycle cop but spent several years in the Military down there and had many freinds who lived like Popcorn. I agree with everyone here ,What a waste of $$ to go after a good ole Boy doing something that was a cultural expression. Spend money on Druggies!

  7. carl allen permalink
    April 15, 2012 3:47 PM

    you will be missed popcorn! r.i.p!!!

  8. Javery permalink
    April 14, 2012 11:14 PM

    The government is one biggest drug dealer of them all, they dont want it to stop, it is all a ruse what the people want to see, a smokescreen.

  9. christopher Mendoza permalink
    March 25, 2012 1:56 PM

    Popcorn was the best of the best , and love popcorn, it is horrible what the ABT did shame on them , they could of been out looking for rapist’s and murder’s instead they go and bust a kind gentle harded man wich took his own life .May popcorn rest in peace and God knows he is there with a jug in his hand and a still.

    christopher Mendoza

  10. Jesse songer permalink
    March 24, 2012 5:01 PM

    Me and my buddy just got a jug of his finest he will always be missed

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