Tennessee native talks little-known facts about the moonshine legend
Almost everyone who grew up in and around Cocke County, Tennessee is familiar with the legend of Popcorn Sutton. Some view him as a folk hero, and others view him as a criminal. Still, his name is synonymous with one of the county’s greatest claims to fame: Real mountain moonshine. Born in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, he came from a long line of bootleggers, and he considered moonshining his birth rite. He learned to make moonshine at an early age and honed the perfection of the craft, much like his father and grandfather had before him.
Popcorn Sutton is famous for his real mountain moonshine. Since his passing, his fame has only become more widespread through his documentaries as well as the popular show “Moonshiners”. He lived an interesting life that some may not know much about. For example, he got his nickname because of an incident with a popcorn vending machine and he was buried twice.
IN THIS ARTICLE
The Popcorn Sutton documentaries
Since Sutton’s passing, 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”. When he was about 60 years old, Sutton appeared in several documentaries including “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make” (featured below). According to filmmaker Neal Hutcheson, Sutton remains an intriguing figure. Hutcheson’s coffee table book-style biography, “The Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton” is a glimpse into Popcorn’s wit, jokes and “hillbilly” way of life. Here are some more 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 “Popcorn” after he attacked a faulty popcorn vending machine with a pool cue out of frustration.
2. Did Popcorn Sutton go to jail?
This is one of the internet’s most popular searches about Sutton. But the the real answer involves many bouts with the law throughout the 70s, 80s and early 2000s. Throughout his infamous career, Sutton faced several criminal complaints and convictions for moonshine-related crimes. The Newport Plain Talk, Cocke County’s local newspaper, originally reported the following arrests and convictions. In 1974, he was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and charged with multiple violations. Later, in 1981, Sutton was convicted and sentenced in the Haywood County Superior Court in North Carolina for felony possession of a controlled substance. He received a five-year sentence. In 1985, he was convicted again for a felony assault with a weapon with intent, for which he received another three-year sentence.
Then in 2007, Sutton was caught with over 650 gallons of moonshine by local Cocke County authorities. He was placed on probation. One year later, 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. This led to yet another conviction on many other charges, including tax evasion and transportation of an illegal substance. That year, his conviction led to a sentence by federal authorities of 18 months in federal prison – which leads us to our next Sutton factoid.
3. Is Popcorn Sutton still alive?
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 term was scheduled to begin in 2009. He was 62 years old. Sutton was found in his parked green Ford Fairmont with the engine running. His wife, Pam Sutton, whom he married just two years prior, had returned from running errands when she found him. His wife reported that he had once told her that he would do this rather than go to jail.
4. Did Popcorn have a wife and a daughter?
Popcorn Sutton married Pam Sutton in 2007 just two years before his death. Sutton also had a daughter by the name of Sky Sutton. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, she and her father spoke on the phone occasionally. Today, Sky Sutton is a published author, historian and genealogist.
5. Did Popcorn Sutton have cancer?
There are rumors that Sutton had cancer. However, our staff confirmed with Pam Sutton herself during a media event that he had never been diagnosed with cancer. He did indicate to the courts that he was ill, but never claimed cancer.
6. Where is Popcorn Sutton buried?
As only a legend would be, Popcorn Sutton was buried twice. Originally, he was buried in an isolated plot in western North Carolina near the graves of his parents. Reports vary on why he was exhumed and reburied. However, 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.”
Did you know anything about Popcorn Sutton that we missed? Be sure to comment below. And if you’re planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, be sure to check out our coupons page.
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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.