Colonel Sanders, the image behind the KFC brand, largely disappeared from KFC commercials until recently, when Darrell Hammond took over the role earlier this year, only to be met with controversy over the fact that Hammond’s Colonel caricature came off as disrespectful of the original Colonel Sanders (Hammond was subsequently replaced by Norm MacDonald).
Many may not have even realized, however, that Colonel Sanders was a real person, and not just a logo on KFC’s restaurant signs and chicken buckets. In fact, Harland David Sanders not only created the company, but after he sold it, acted as the goodwill ambassador for KFC for the last 20 years of his life. And yes: He looked just he does on the KFC signs, and was never seen in public over the last two decades of his life without wearing his signature white suit and goatee. He was also a “Colonel,” but not in the military sense. Colonel was like the Kentucky equivalent of being knighted in England.
Sanders himself was what we in the South might call a tough SOB. He lived a hard life full of failures. His dad dropped dead of a fever when Sanders was just a kid. He had a son who died of a tonsil infection. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and spent much of his life working hard, labor-intensive jobs, like a blacksmith’s helper, a fireman, and a railroad laborer. He eventually got a law degree through correspondence school, though he lost his job as a lawyer after getting in a brawl with his own client. These “brawls” were common throughout his life. In fact, in the 1930s while running a service station, he got in a shootout with a competitor that left one man dead and his competitor with a bullet wound to his shoulder, compliments of Colonel (f**king) Sanders.