Former Kentucky Gov. John Brown Jr. (D), who helped turn Kentucky Fried Chicken into a global brand and made millions off of its sale, has died at age 88.
Brown’s family announced his death in a release on Tuesday, saying that they are “heartbroken” but comforted by him writing “I have never been so happy” in the days before his death.
“He was a true Kentucky original who beamed with pride for his home state and its people. 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 said, according to the Lexington-based CBS affiliate WKYT.
Brown served as governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983 following a career as a businessman. He narrowly won a crowded Democratic primary and more comfortably defeated a former Republican governor in the general election.
The Associated Press reported that Brown took office as a recession was getting underway and tax revenues were decreasing. He was viewed favorably for keeping the state economy steady, but thousands of state workers were laid off during his tenure.
Before serving as governor, he and fellow businessman Jack Massey bought KFC from Harland Sanders for $2 million in 1965. The two of them greatly expanded KFC to become one of the largest restaurant chains in the United States.
Brown served as the president of KFC and held partial ownership before selling his interest in 1971 to Heublein, a distributor of food and alcoholic beverages.
He bought a controlling interest in the Kentucky Colonels, an American Basketball Association (ABA) team based in Louisville, in 1969 and paid $1 million for half interest for the Buffalo Braves in the NBA after the ABA folded.
He traded the team for the Boston Celtics in 1978, the first-ever trade of professional sports teams, and eventually sold his share in the Celtics, according to the AP.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) praised Brown on Twitter, saying he was a “great Kentuckian.”
“He was always kind and supportive — from election days to the challenges of COVID-19, he was there. I am grateful for his leadership, but also his friendship,” he said.
Brown was the father of former Kentucky Secretary of State John Brown III (D) and CNN senior Washington correspondent Pamela Brown. His father was former Rep. John Brown Sr. (D-Ky.).