Today is Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Redneck Boy Ben Jones greets fans

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Meet Ben Jones Actor-writer Ben Jones, who starred as good-ole-boy mechanic Cooter on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” will sign his autobiography, “Redneck Boy in the Promised Land: The Confessions of Crazy Cooter,” 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Sherlock's Book Emporium in Lebanon at 200 Maddox-Simpson Parkway. 449-9807. For more info on Jones, go to www.cootersplace.com. By KEN BECKSpecial for The Wilson PostOther than a bum knee, life now may be as good as it can get for Ben Jones, the actor who played Cooter the mechanic on TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He’s been touring the country with his autobiography, Redneck Boy in the Promised Land, appearing at "Dukes" reunions and festivals and promoting his two “Dukes"-themed store/museums, Cooter’s Place, in Nashville and Gatlinburg.    But he can never forget that just a little more than 30 years ago he nearly killed himself on the demon booze.“I was 36 years old and dying. My life was a total mess. I had been through three marriages and three divorces. Been thrown into jail many times. I just could not stop drinking,” said Jones on the phone from his home in Virginia. “I had been on a five-week drunk, was dying of alcohol poisoning and the DTs. I hit rock bottom. How I survived  it, I don’t know, but I remember praying, and I haven’t had a drink since. I believe in miracles.”Miracles indeed. After sobering up in 1977, he nabbed the role of Cooter in 1978 and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1988. Three years ago he sat down and began writing his life story.“People know me mostly from ‘Dukes’ and others know me from my political career. There’s a lot around that in the book,” said Jones, 68, who appears Saturday at Sherlock's Book Emporium in Lebanon. “It’s really a story about overcoming myself and surviving alcoholism and getting a second chance in life.“It’s interesting about the ‘Dukes’ and politics, and we all want a best seller, but if one life is changed and somebody says, ‘Oh, Lord, that’s what I’ve got (the disease of alcoholism). This guy overcame it and maybe I can to,’ then the book will have been a huge success,” said Jones, who began acting in theater while a student at the University of North Carolina.Living in Rappahannock County, Va., 70 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and just a short distance off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jones and his wife, Alma, share six children and five grandkids. Their farmhouse lies between two mountains, The Peak and Jenkins Mountain, 3 miles from Washington, Va. (population 190), which was laid out by a 17-year-old surveyor named George Washington.Jones has appeared in more than 25 feature films and hundreds of TV programs but realizes “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985, is his claim to fame. The series also made stars of John Schneider (Bo Duke), Tom Wopat (Luke Duke), Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke) and the late Sorrell Brooke (Boss Hogg).“I’ve done a lot of things in show biz, but I owe a lot to ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’” he puts it succinctly.As Cooter, Jones worked on lots of hot rods, especially another star of the show, an orange Dodger Charger known as the General Lee. The series continues to air today in more than 50 countries. And the show’s popularity provides him a convenient ice breaker to meet folks on the street as well as fans at various events such as the General Lee Fest at the end of July in Branson, Mo.“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t love people, and I do,” he said. “It’s mostly the kids. If you can make a 5-year-old kid laugh—there’s nothing better than that for me. We get a lot of special needs kids, and they love ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ so much. I just enjoy making people happy.” Jones and his wife did exactly that with their fan gathering known as DukesFest. It convened for several years in Bristol, Tenn., before peaking in June 2006 as more than 80,000 fans converged at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville.During the past 16 months or so, the actor has been recuperating from complications following major back surgery. "I was going through some agonizing physical therapy," Jones said. "What was wrong was my left hip was just shot. There was nothing there. So in the middle of recovering from back surgery, I had to have hip replacement. Now my right knee (after three replacements) is wore out. I'm kind of stove up, hoping the knee will heal up. I been doing shows, not without pain, but once I'm up there talking and singing, I don't think about it."  The actor continues to make monthly appearances at his Cooter’s Garages where he can chat with fans one on one, and he is working on a documentary, “Hazzard Nation.”“It will be about ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ phenomenon. How the fans have kept the show alive for 30 years and still going strong,” Jones said. “I got a big pile of film, like a jigsaw puzzle just opened all over the floor. I’ll have it out later this summer.”And he has also dabbled in music. Besides a musical that he wrote and stars in about the life of Baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, he sings country rock with Cooter’s Garage Band and has more recently performed in Virginia with bluegrass giant Ralph Stanley and his grandson. “We’ve got a lot of music in the can and pretty soon I’m gonna put out another CD,” Jones said. “We do a lot of old classic country, geezer rock, old honky-tonk songs and a lot of Hank Williams. I sing all kinds of stuff from country and rock to bluegrass and jazz.”As if they weren’t enough, he appears from time to time on national TV programs as a political commentator. From 1989 to 1993, he served in the U.S. Congress, representing Georgia’s 4th district. He lost a third-term bid to a fellow named Newt Gingrich.“I still dabble in politics. I left politics because of illness. The voters got sick of me,” joked Jones with an invisible grin beaming through the phone line, courtesy of crazy Cooter.Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.
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