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Popcorn Sutton and His Moonshine: 6 Surprising Facts (With Pictures)

Popcorn sutton with a moonshine still

Popcorn Sutton poses with one of his moonshine stills (photo shared with permission from Sucker Punch Pictures)

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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, others 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 considered moonshining his birth rite. He learned to make moonshine at an early age. He honed the perfection of the craft, much like his father and grandfather had before him.

But he was also known for being convicted of crimes related to moonshining and illegal firearm possession. Since his 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”.

The Popcorn Sutton documentaries

While Sutton made his career out of this illegal trade, his rise to massive fame didn’t happen until 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. The book also offers a better understanding of how the people of the region survived. How well do you know the legend of Popcorn Sutton? Here are six interesting facts about his life that might just surprise you.


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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.

2. What did Popcorn Sutton do in 1983? Did he go to 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 ’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. This is likely the event that spurred the internet’s “1983” search.

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. The charges also included 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.

Popcorn Sutton
The legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton (photo shared with permission from Sucker Punch Pictures)

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. His health was failing. Months before his conviction, Sutton reportedly had a mental breakdown after being diagnosed with cancer. As a result, the judge had reason to show him leniency.

5. 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.”

6. 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. However, she and her father were not very close. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, she and her father spoke on the phone occasionally. However, before his death, she had not seen him in years. Today, Sky Sutton is a published author, historian and genealogist.

Did you know anything about Popcorn Sutton that we missed? Let us know in the comments. View the web story version of this article here.

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.

Shop The Last One by Sucker Punch Pictures

14 thoughts on “Popcorn Sutton and His Moonshine: 6 Surprising Facts (With Pictures)”

  1. I wud love to have met Popcorn. He seemed interesting and came out with some funny one liners. Wud love to get me some of his mountain juice 😊

  2. I was wondering if it was the last time the still was going to ever be use, why did they take the time, and hard work to break it down? Why not just leave it up in a shrine like ritual for all to see?? When he took it back home what happen to it?? Could it still be set up, as a shrine monument??

  3. I met him once at his little shack in Cherokee. He had a wood burning stove inside. He was selling some stuff. I bought a couple items and he talked to me❤️

  4. What did his Mom put in the moonshine to make medicine, that Popcorn got addicted to? I couldn’t understand what he said. I sounded like absinthe.

  5. The story of the life of Popcorn Sutton shows that Americans are still not really free!
    Popcorn Sutton is an American legend! He seemed kind and good, not perfect but who is?

  6. I met Popcorn in a restaurant in Maggie Valley around 1997. This Diner had postcards of him for sale next to the cash register . I picked one up and realized the man sitting in the corner bye himself was the Legend ! He was eating a piece of Blueberry pie. I walked over and asked if he was the man on the Postcard. He said “Nobody else could be that handsome”😆 We both laughed and he proceeded to tell me how he got his Name. He said a Vending machine in a bar took his money and didn’t give him his popcorn! So he Wooped the hell out of it with a pool stick. He was quite a Character. It was an absolute honor to meet him. R.I.P Popcorn 👣

  7. Would loved to have known Popcorn. With all his knowledge about shine and his love for animals, especially cats, that makes him number one in my book.

  8. I enjoyed watching his video it was entertaining to watch this man a Legend from the past a way of life how he fed and took care of his family. People had to make a living somehow back then I guess.

  9. gotta love popcorns sarcastic wit. he seemed to be a kind old soul. i too would have enjoyed meeting old popcorn,he was and will always be the man the myth the legend that is popcorn marvin sutton

  10. I met Popcorn in 1973 when he brought his wife Karen and infant daughter Sky to my house on Fie Top Rd in Maggie Valley to buy a Saanen doe I had for sale as Karen wanted goat milk for them. Shortly after this Karen took Sky and moved back north to her family where Sky was raised. Popcorn and I stayed in close contact for the next 20 years and when I was in nursing school at Western Carolina University many weekends after he had been drinking heavily he would show up at my apartment on campus and say “I just need to sleep it off” whereupon he would climb in my bed and sleep all day while I studied then he would get up and I would not see him until the next weekend when he needed to rest.


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