Dancer Jesse ‘‘Jesco’’ White, born in Boone County on July 30, 1956, became widely known with the release of the film Dancing Outlaw by Morgantown filmmaker Jacob Young. The award-winning 1991 documentary turned White into an unlikely national celebrity, a hillbilly ambassador whom many state residents felt only added to the stereotypes that West Virginia struggles to shake.
Gun battles and car crashes took the lives of his father and four of his 14 brothers and sisters. In the film, Jesco, who turned to religion after his father’s death, spoke matter-of-factly about his drug habit and reverently about Elvis Presley. Jesco’s entire trailer (and, in particular, his ‘‘Elvis Room’’) was festooned with all manner of Elvis paraphernalia, from many framed photographs, huge velvet paintings, and ceramic dishes to Elvis ashtrays and mirrors, a life-size bust, and a ceramic clock that played the Presley standard, ‘‘Heartbreak Hotel.’’
Jesco’s father, D. Ray White, was a legendary Boone County dancer who was featured in Talking Feet, a 1992 documentary that showcased some of America’s finest traditional dancers. While Jesco lacked his father’s talent, he had a backwoods political incorrectness that made him quotable. Jesco’s fame peaked in 1994 when he was featured in a brief cameo on the TV show Roseanne. Filmmaker Young followed up with the documentary, Jesco Goes To Hollywood.
White lost his wife, Norma Jean, to illness in 2009. He emerged from relative obscurity in 2009 when he was arrested on a drug charge. In 2009, filmmaker Johnny Knoxville produced a documentary about the White family called The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Written by Michael Lipton