R.I.P. Popcorn Sutton


I'm sorry to see that Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton has committed suicide rather than go to prison:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Famed Appalachian moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, whose incorrigible bootlegging ways were as out of step with modern times as his hillbilly beard and overalls, took his own life rather than go to prison for making white lightning, his widow says.

"He couldn't go to prison. His mind would just not accept it. ... So credit the federal government for my husband being dead, I really do," Pam Sutton told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday from the couple's home in the Parrottsville community, about 50 miles east of Knoxville.

A few hours earlier she had buried Sutton, 62, in a private ceremony in the mountains around Haywood County, N.C., where he grew up. He went to his grave in a pine casket he bought years ago and kept in a bedroom.

Sutton - nicknamed "Popcorn" for smashing up a 10-cent popcorn machine in a bar with a pool cue in his 20s - looked like a living caricature of a mountain moonshiner. He wore a long gray beard, faded overalls, checkered shirt and feathered fedora. He made his home in Cocke County, where cockfighting and moonshining are legend.

He wrote a paperback called "Me and My Likker" and recorded videos on how to make moonshine. The History Channel featured him in a 2007 documentary called "Hillbilly: The Real Story."

"You might say he embodied a kind of Appalachian archetype, a character trait of fearlessness and fierce loyalty to regional identity even in the face of personal persecution and stereotyping," said Ted Olson, a regional writer and faculty member in East Tennessee State University's Department of Appalachian Studies.

Sutton conceded he was part of a dying breed in an interview last year with actor Johnny Knoxville for a video posted on Knoxville's "Jackass" Web site.

"All the rest of them that I know are dead," Sutton said in the profane, not-for-primetime clip. "I just hope and pray they don't send me off (to prison)."

Sutton's widow said he'd just gotten a letter to report Friday to a medium-security federal prison in south Georgia to begin an 18-month sentence for illegally producing distilled spirits and being a felon in possession of a gun. He had pleaded guilty last April.

On Monday, she came home from running errands and found him dead in his old Ford. Authorities suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Autopsy results may be weeks away.

Pam Sutton, who became Sutton's fourth wife in 2007, said carbon monoxide may be the method but that's not what killed him.

"He tried every way in the world to get them (federal authorities) to leave him on house arrest," she said.

I realize laws are laws, but I still think it's a shame. I saw him on that History Channel Hillbilly documentary, and found myself loving him. Basically, making liquor without a license is a tax violation.

I wonder how Popcorn's relatives feel about the head "revenuer" not paying his taxes.

Here's a video of Popcorn doing his thing, as his ancestors did for centuries:

Try as I might, I find it hard to see the old guy as the type of threat to society who needs to be incarcerated.

posted by Eric on 03.18.09 at 07:41 PM










Comments

Sad news - that was a great show about sturdy mountain folks. Truer Americans than big city slickers. Many of whom are tax cheats, but write tax laws/collect other people's taxes.

Sutton was only 60 when HC shot their movie, but hard life made him more haggard than his age would warrant. My he rest in peace.

Dries   ·  March 18, 2009 9:24 PM

I find it hard to see the old guy as the type of threat to society who needs to be incarcerated.

The obvious answer: He was a threat, not to society but to the system. Dare the law and it will come get you. Since the law is often an ass and knows it, it must reassure itself by force.

martin   ·  March 18, 2009 10:43 PM

How is it that people in government get away with not paying taxes but always come after everybody else?

WGK   ·  March 19, 2009 3:00 AM

Excise taxes have become a legislative method of violating the Constitution's prohibition of bills of attainder. Anyone who resists them has my approval

Brett   ·  March 19, 2009 8:58 AM

What's sad is that this kind of traditional folk craft should be protected, subsidized, and encouraged -- not have its own dysfunctional law enforcement agency entering its second century of battling Demon Rum.

Cambias   ·  March 19, 2009 9:56 AM

His mistake was going public. If you're doing it illegally, SHUT UP and STAY DOWN!!

harleycowboy   ·  March 19, 2009 12:13 PM

Update to my point above (H/T Reason Hit&Run)

Quote the judge:

A probationary sentence would do absolutely nothing to deter you from further crimes. To do so would send a message that this court will tolerate repeated violations of the law. To do so would promote disrespect for the law.

Your moonshining is a violation of the law...

[N]ot only are you not remorseful for your criminal conduct, you seem to be proud of it.

QED. Statements devoid of any humanity. In the best fascist tradition of subjugating the individual to the system. I use these sometimes overused phrases deliberately. They fit this situation. Like any leniency would have unleashed a torrent of anarchic lawbreaking threatening the complete breakdown of of law and order.

Shame on you judge Sutton! I hope you sleep well in the knowledge of having driven an old man to his death. This was foreseeable, not an "unintended consequence". Shame on you!

martin   ·  March 19, 2009 12:44 PM

This was his fifth arrest and he was not making moonshine for personal consumption as his final arrest found 1,700 gallons of mooonshine and three stills. I would be outraged if he had a still in his garage and made moonshine for personal consumption, but he was clearly operating on a wholesale level and was apparently ignoring all of the laws associated with running a business. Those laws may be dumb but they're what we have and if someone flagrantly and publicly violates the law repeatedly, they're going to eventually get in trouble. At some point after one of his previous four arrests, he could have arranged to get whatever licenses he needed. Surely with his popularity, he could have scraped together the money. I'll bet he could have found somoene to do the paperwork for him.

Bolie Williams IV   ·  March 19, 2009 6:10 PM

"Basically, making liquor without a license is a tax violation. "

Eric, I believe that moonshine makers versus the government go all the way back the the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 1700's.

Regarding bootlegging and sticking it to the man, a listen to Steve Earle's song "Copperhead Road" is in order.

Bolie, what's your take on Tim Geithner's tax cheating, considering your statement regarding violating the law and getting punished?

Anonymous   ·  March 20, 2009 4:48 AM

I think it's pretty sleazy to have a bunch of tax cheats in the government (though Geithner's may have been a mistake as opposed to intentional - not that he should be excused any more than anyone else would be). But the fact that Geithner got away with his tax non-payment doesn't mean that everyone else should, too. A society won't function if people only obey the laws they feel like obeying. We should obey the law unless it is truly, strongly immoral and we should first try to change laws we don't like before violating them. Also, if you choose to violate a law that you don't like, you have to accept the penalty and be willing to be an example. "I don't agree with that law" is not a defense, nor should it be.

Bolie Williams IV   ·  March 20, 2009 3:01 PM

I think popcorn sutton gives true meaning to what a mountain legend truley is he a great and wonderful person sure he made liquor but that was what he knew and i bet the liquor they got didn't get poured out on the groud anyway the JUDGE and the REVS probably took some home with them for ther big partys. Mrs Sutton my heart goes out to you and your family we will miss him a good friend in Georgia. Terry W.

Terry   ·  April 1, 2009 9:20 PM

I think popcorn sutton gives true meaning to what a mountain legend truley is he a great and wonderful person sure he made liquor but that was what he knew and i bet the liquor they got didn't get poured out on the groud anyway the JUDGE and the REVS probably took some home with them for ther big partys. Mrs Sutton my heart goes out to you and your family we will miss him a good friend in Georgia. Terry W.

Terry   ·  April 1, 2009 9:20 PM

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