He’s been known as Cooter and Congressman, redneck and pundit. His life would take him from a rail yard in Virginia, through 20 years of alcoholism, failed marriages and turmoil, to fame as an actor and success in politics and business. Today Ben Jones is very happily married to his fifth wife, Alma, juggling his passions for writing, politics, his family and The Dukes of Hazzard. He sat down with Susan Hoffman for a lively, humorous and candid discussion of his life, influences and careers.
Ben Lewis Jones was born in 1941 in Tarboro, North Carolina. His father’s job on the railroad soon moved the family to Portsmouth, Virginia where they lived in a company "railroad shack" in a freight yard on the docks. Naturally smart and encouraged by his mother’s love of reading and music, Jones managed to graduate from high school, despite becoming an alcoholic at the age of 15. He then worked his way through college with a series of odd jobs. At the University of North Carolina, Jones discovered theater and almost immediately forged a professional career. After appearing as an actor in over two hundred films, television shows, and theatrical productions, he was cast as "Cooter," the amiable sidekick mechanic in the mega-hit television classic, "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Along the way Jones worked with the likes of James Earl Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Eva Marie Saint, and John Travolta, appeared onstage at the Kennedy Center and the prestigious Berkshire Theatre Festival, and acted in such films as "Primary Colors" and "Meet Joe Black".
After the "Dukes," Jones was elected to the United States Congress from the Fourth District of Georgia and served two terms before redistricting took his seat. Although he then returned to his entertainment career, Jones keeps up with his political interests by appearing as a regular "pundit" on shows such as "Crossfire" and "Hardball." He is also a writer, contributing opinion pieces and columns to newspapers and magazines including The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Weekly Standard.
Also a singer, Jones and his "Cooter's Garage Band" have appeared throughout the United States at concerts, fairs, and festivals. Jones and his wife, Alma Viator, are the proprietors of "Cooter's Place," the "Dukes of Hazzard" museum and shop in Gatlinburg and Nashville, Tennessee. They also founded "Dukesfest," a huge annual gathering of "Dukes" fans in Nashville. They live in a frontier log home built before the American Revolution in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Watch the Full-Length, Unedited Interview: Recorded on September 16, 2008