Almost everyone who grew up in and around Cocke County, Tennessee is familiar with the legend of Popcorn Sutton. Regardless of whether or not they regard him as a hero or a criminal, his name is synonymous with one of the county’s greatest claims to fame: Real mountain moonshine.
Popcorn Sutton was a famous moonshiner who was born in Maggie Valley, North Carolina and came from a long line of bootleggers and considered moonshining his birth rite.
While Sutton made his career out of this illegal trade, his rise to national fame didn’t happen until he was around 60 years old, after appearing in several documentaries including “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make” (featured below) and being convicted of crimes related to moonshining and illegal firearm possession.
Since his death, his fame has only become more widespread with a new whiskey company that bears his name and numerous mentions on Discovery Channel’s popular show “Moonshiners”.
But how well do you really know the legend of Popcorn Sutton? Here are 6 interesting facts about his life that might just surprise you.
1. How did Popcorn Sutton get his nickname?
Popcorn Sutton’s real name is “Marvin Sutton”. He received the nickname of “Popcorn” after he attacked a faulty popcorn vending machine with a pool cue out of frustration at a local bar.
2. What did Popcorn Sutton do in 1983? Did Sutton to go jail?
This is one of the internet’s most popular searches about Sutton. But the real question isn’t what he did in 1983 – it’s about the many bouts with the law throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and early 2000s.
Over the course of his infamous career, Sutton faced a number of criminal complaints and convictions for moonshine-related crimes. The following arrests and convictions were originally reported in the Newport Plain Talk, Cocke County’s local newspaper.
In 1974, he was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and charged for multiple violations. In 1981, Sutton was convicted and sentenced in the Haywood County Superior Court in North Carolina for felony possession of a controlled substance and received a five-year sentence.
In 1985, he was convicted again for a felony assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, for which he received another three-year sentence. (This is likely the event that spurred the internet’s ‘1983’ search).
In 2007 Sutton was caught with over 650 gallons of illegal moonshine by local Cocke County authorities and was placed on probation.
In 2008, while still on probation from the previous charge, an undercover agent working for the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission discovered 500 gallons of moonshine being housed and produced by Sutton, which lead to yet another conviction on a number of charges, including illegal possession of a firearm, the illegal production of liquor, tax evasion and the transportation of an illegal substance.
The 2008 conviction led to a sentence of 18 months in federal prison – which leads us to our next Sutton factoid …
3. Is Popcorn Sutton still alive? Did Sutton kill himself?
In a move to perhaps cement his legendary status for all of eternity, Popcorn Sutton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning just days before his federal prison sentence was scheduled to begin in 2009.
Sutton was found dead at the age of 62 in his parked green Ford Fairmont with the engine running. His wife, Pam Sutton, whom he married just two years prior, said he had once told her that he would rather commit suicide than go to jail.
4. Did Popcorn Sutton have cancer?
If Sutton’s prison sentence seems light considering his many crimes, it was in part due to his age and already failing health. Months before his conviction, Sutton had been diagnosed with cancer, which gave the judge reason to show him leniency.
5. Where is Popcorn Sutton buried?
As only a legend would be, Popcorn Sutton was actually buried twice.
Originally, he was buried in an isolated plot in western North Carolina near the graves of his parents. Reports of why he was exhumed and reburied vary, but most believe it was either due to vandalism of the original site or a family dispute with his widow.
Either way, months later his wife Pam held a large public memorial service, which Hank Williams Jr. famously attended. Sutton’s exhumed body was transported via horse-drawn carriage to his property in Parrotsville, Tenn., where he remains today.
Beside his grave is a marker that reads, “Popcorn said f*** you.”
6. Did Popcorn have a wife and and a daughter?
Popcorn Sutton married Pam Sutton in 2007 just two years prior to his death.
Sutton also had a daughter by the name of Sky Sutton. However she and her father were not terribly close. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, she and her father spoke on the phone occasionally, and prior to his death she had not seen him in years.
Today, Sky Sutton is a published author, historian and genealogist.
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Sucker Punch Pictures for allowing us to use their incredible photos of Popcorn Sutton and his still for this article.
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