Skip to content

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.”

  1. grant philpot permalink
    March 20, 2016 6:29 PM

    mr sutton was unremarkable , a true man that has left me in tears to just now learn of , i want to give thanks to his family and friends and praise a figure of shinning that taught all of us .

  2. ms.maddy permalink
    December 16, 2015 12:06 AM

    Long lives pop corn sutton the, moon shine likker king.

  3. Donald Jones permalink
    December 10, 2015 7:13 AM

    They could have just taxed him and let it go at that. Shouldn’t have to end like that. God Bless.

  4. April 29, 2014 11:54 AM

    R.I.P. Popcorn Quinn Sutton the Best Moonshiner that walked the hills of will be remembered.

  5. Smg permalink
    April 4, 2014 1:32 PM

    What is WRONG with this country??? It’s not WHAT you do, it’s WHO U KNOW……sad, sad commentary

  6. February 20, 2014 12:08 AM

    Well, gosling game, here is your answer.

    I am a former radio broadcaster, and a former top aide to a State Representative in the Wisconsin Assembly at the Capitol. I have authored and published a book, live in Madison, Wisconsin in a Victorian home built in 1892, and know the North won the Civil War. I am a gay man in 14-year relationship.

    Caffeinated Politics is a blog with over 3 million hits as I provide news and analysis, book reviews, media critiques, promoting the Grand Ole Opry, and advocating for gay marriage. From Russia to Mormon underwear, and wooly bear caterpillars, this site has it all.

    I found the obituary for Popcorn interesting and posted it. Many stop by my blog to read it, as did you. As for your comment about Popcorn, well, I think he would like this blog and also would advocate ‘live and let live’.

    Thanks for wondering!

  7. gosling game permalink
    February 19, 2014 9:32 PM

    POPCORN wouldn’t approve of this yankee , socialist crap in the linked articles on this BS wbsite. What is this place?????

  8. January 11, 2014 9:52 PM

    I lived in Waynesville on J-Creek nearly 10 years. Saw Popcorn in Maggie at his shop. He sold boiled peanuts but that was not his passion. He always had a wood handled revolver stuck in his belt. He once visited a friend of mine on J-Creek who had a sheet metal shop with plans for a stainless steel “peanut cooker” that was nearly 6 feet in diameter and my buddy recognized it immediately for what it really was and politely refused to build it. Popcorn was a genuine original, no doubt about it.

  9. Darl Woolf permalink
    November 17, 2013 7:42 PM

    Popcorn you will be missed, the feds go after the easy marks, and let the real criminals go.

  10. Lydia permalink
    October 27, 2013 3:45 PM


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: