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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. zabo permalink
    January 24, 2013 9:21 AM

    this man was the perfect picture of what a true american mountain man looked like. god bless you old popcorn sutton and r.i.p. mountain man.

  2. Joyce Hocking permalink
    January 8, 2013 12:43 PM

    I just watched a documentary about “Popcorn” and God Bless you Marvin. You were a “true grit” kind of man.

  3. mack pitts permalink
    December 16, 2012 2:15 PM

    leave those people alone. this country is flodded every year with drugs and illegal immigrants we are living everyday with terroist and we are expected to like it. so lets go solve some real crimes.thats what we are paying you for

  4. Marie permalink
    December 4, 2012 11:53 AM


  5. permalink
    December 2, 2012 8:18 PM

    i wish i could have met POPCORN….he lived the way i would have if i lived in those mountains….the feds think they are so tough picking on that MAN….they will never be the man POPCORN was…what makes me mad is that they are in their MILLION DOLLAR HOMES drinking what they stole from him….they are the real criminals…not POPCORN….

  6. November 26, 2012 7:51 PM

    I think the main reason this all got against the law was that some of these guys were trying to do moonshini but instead would poison folks as Popcorn Quote said”some of em will put rubbin alcohol in their shine”.Those type of folks poisoned people and as this happened it gave revenuers another weapon to throw at em in order to jusitfy what they were doing-although I will say -with no appologies that this is a good thing that the government does-as anyone throwing crap in the liquor~to get by~needs the key thrown away.So sad Popcor and the legits have to suffer.Almost seems worth paying the taxes as to all the trouble trying to hide and it hinders production also and hinders your customer base.Hank you did Popcorns widow a favor!I really cant wait to try some for sure.

  7. monkey permalink
    November 25, 2012 8:28 AM

    popcorn was a true hero using what he had learned to make a living I just wish I could of met the man R,I,P, popcorn save me a seat and a nip i’ll see ya one day

  8. Larry E Daniel permalink
    November 4, 2012 8:34 PM

    MAY HE REST IN PEACE I. Will miss him.

  9. u.s. slave permalink
    November 4, 2012 12:43 AM

    Vote libertarian! Democrats bring more gun control and taxes then republicans come in not w/repeals they just do nothing but pay banks cause those are the ones the 2 corporate partys realy represent

  10. Ryan Mentier permalink
    October 9, 2012 8:16 PM

    He sounds like one hell of a man wish there was more like him in this world.

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