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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.”

  1. Joe permalink
    March 20, 2018 7:33 PM

    I use his recipes to this day….I idol popcorn…when I make my stuff I thank will popcorn like it

  2. Coal Miner. permalink
    March 19, 2018 12:34 AM

    I lived in the Appalachia area of Tennessee. My father was in law enforcement. Many people in my county made moonshine. The law knew who these people were and what they were doing. However, the people making moonshine did not publicize to the outside world they were making moonshine. And, my father never arrested anyone for moon shining. However, my father was concerned as some moon shiners would sell moon shine that was dangerous to drink.

    Popcorn Sutton, wrote a book about moon shining, made a movie about moon shining, and would set up a still on a street and show people how to moon shine. My opinion is that he was tempting someone to arrest him. I feel it would be difficult for a law man to explain why he was not arresting a man that was selling books on moon shining, making movies on moon shining, and setting up stills in public.

    Popcorn Sutton’s net worth, when he died was $13 million.

    Popcorn Sutton was only given a few months to live by his doctors. Chain smoking took it toll on Popcorn Sutton. Popcorn was in pain.

    Do not agree with those of you that state that federal officials should turn their head to what Popcorn was doing and go after real bad guys.

    Popcorn was a multi-millionaire that was only given a few months to live when he committed suicide. The man had a coffin in his house. There were shovels in his coffin to did his grave. He knew he was on the way out.

  3. smokey3 permalink
    February 14, 2018 6:56 PM

    R I P Popcorn… You were one of a kind.

  4. April 11, 2017 4:26 PM

    what a legend✌️🍸💖

  5. Jason permalink
    March 17, 2017 8:23 PM

    Watched program on BBC about Popcorn and saw your blog was listed. Very nice job with what you do on your side of the pond. I applaud the effort.

  6. Charlie Cagle permalink
    March 9, 2017 3:13 PM

    Love coming to Maggie back in the old days sat at the old store down from Ghost Town talk to popcorn and Troy Cagle Troy is a distant relative of mine I followed the copper line of ancestry rest in peace popcorn

  7. Charlie Cagle permalink
    March 9, 2017 3:09 PM

    My name is Charlie Cagle distant relative of Troy Cagle which popcorn was a half Cagle love them Maggie Valley Days I kind of hope Old Troy Cagle still sitting around at the old store down below Ghost Town

  8. November 19, 2016 3:11 PM

    A soundtrack akin to “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou”?

  9. A.J permalink
    November 19, 2016 1:40 PM

    This guy would make for a good movie. I bet there could be a great soundtrack made from it as well.

  10. April 10, 2016 11:05 AM

    Feds afraid of losing a few bucks of tax money. Had to make an example. Bull crap. The country is overrun with meth labs but they use their resources to mess with a old moonshiner.

    Hopping the south rises again ron

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