How did John Y Brown Jr die? Family says former guv and KFC pioneer, 88, was ‘a true Kentucky original’

In 1979, newly married to TV celebrity and ex-Miss America Phyllis George, Brown Jr ran for office and entered the Democratic primary for the governor's position

How did John Y Brown Jr die? Family says former guv and KFC pioneer, 88, was ‘a true Kentucky original’
John Y Brown Jr, who was the governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983, died on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 (Awesome Inc/YouTube)
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LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY: Former Kentucky governor and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) magnate John Y Brown Jr, who married Miss America and brought the Boston Celtics, died at 88 on Tuesday, November 22, 2022. Brown Jr, a former Democratic governor who served Kentucky from 1979 to 1983, was also famously known around the world for his fast-food juggernaut Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC.

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"He was a true Kentucky original who beamed with pride for his home state and its people," the family said in a statement on Twitter. "He had many prominent accomplishments, but most of all he loved his family with all of his heart, and we in turn loved him with all of our hearts," they added. Brown Jr died due to a series of health problems that stemmed from Covid-19 complications which began in the summer of 2022. 

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Who is John Y Brown Jr?

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Born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1933, Brown Jr went to law school at the University of Kentucky as one of Encyclopedia Britannica's top salesmen. After his service in the US Army Reserve, he co-purchased KFC from Harland Sanders for $2 million. In January 1965, he became president of KFC and sold it to Heublein Corp in a $275 million stock swap in 1971. He received nearly $21 million in Heublein stock for his KFC shares. Brown Jr then moved his interest to sports and in 1969, purchased a controlling interest in the Kentucky Colonels, a Louisville franchise in the American Basketball Association (ABA).

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KFC
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) logo on a street billboard (Getty Images)

After the ABA folded, Brown Jr reportedly paid $1 million for half interest in the Buffalo Braves of the National Basketball Association, according to Daily Mail. After his attempt to move the Braves to Louisville was blocked by the court, he and a partner then swapped the Braves for the Boston Celtics, which is known as the first-ever trade of professional sports teams in 1978. However, Celtics fans turned on him after he traded popular players without the approval of the team president and legendary former coach Red Auerbach. Thereafter, Brown sold the team in 1979.

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In 1979, newly married to TV celebrity and former Miss America Phyllis George, Brown Jr ran for office and entered the Democratic primary for the governor's position. Brown Jr initiated a six-week campaign with the heavy use of television and modern campaign techniques relying on his own fortune. Furthermore, he defeated Republican Louie B Nunn, a former governor, in the general election, taking office as the 55th governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983. During his tenure, Brown Jr brought 'record commerce' to Kentucky and reduced the state budget by more than 20%, according to the National Governors Association. However, he also had to face backlash after thousands of state employees lost their jobs.

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Former Miss America Phyllis George  arrives at the Premiere Lounge after party for
Brown Jr married former Miss America Phyllis George in 1979 (Frederick M Brown/Getty Images)

In 2009, Harvard Business School honored Brown Jr as one of the top American business leaders of the 20th century, along with Ray Kroc, Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Bill Gates, reported the source. During his administration, the cabinet witnessed a diverse establishment of programs which is still in use today. Brown Jr is survived by two sons Lincoln Tyler George Brown and John Brown III and a daughter Pamela Brown. His daughter, a CNN anchor and senior Washington correspondent Pamela said, "Our Dad, John Y Brown Jr, not only dreamed the impossible dream he also lived it until the very end. His positive attitude and zest for life were unrivaled and allowed him to beat the odds many times over." In May 2020, Brown Jr lost his wife Phyllis to a blood disorder disease she had since she was in her 30s. 

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Brown Jr will lie in state at the Kentucky Capitol rotunda on Tuesday, November 29. His funeral services will begin at 3 pm at the state Capitol building the following day.

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