Harland David Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1930, and was the brand’s longtime spokesman, died on Dec. 16, 1980, in Louisville, Ky. He was 90 years old.
In May 2015, 35 years after the original founder’s death, KFC resurrected Colonel Harland Sanders with “Saturday Night Live” comedian Darrell Hammond in a series of online and television ads. The legendary founder also starred in a comic book.
Along with Darrell Hammond’s portrayal of Colonel Sanders, KFC brought the legend to life in an interactive website called “The Hall of Colonels,” which was touted as “the Internet encyclopedia about the man behind the bucket.” The effort was part of KFC’s revitalization strategy with the theme “Make the Colonel Proud.”
Comedian Norm Macdonald, a veteran of “Last Comic Standing” and “Saturday Night Live,” replaced Darrell Hammond as Colonel Sanders in August 2015 for the chain’s fall advertising with a video series called “Fryerside Chats.”
In time for the 2016 Super Bowl, KFC substituted Norm Macdonald with stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan. A 30-second ad featured the “real” Colonel Sanders, portrayed by Gaffigan, waking from a nightmare in which Macdonald had stolen his identity.
Actor George Hamilton, known for his golden tan, was KFC’s first Colonel to focus on one product, the chain’s Extra Crispy Chicken. He became Colonel in August 2016.
Actor Vincent Kartheiser, who played smarmy Pete Campbell in AMC’s popular “Mad Men,” was tapped in October 2016 as an Elvis Presley-like spokesman for KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken.
In September 2016, comedian and ex-Marine Rob Riggle starred in a series of sports-themed commercials centered on the fictional Kentucky Buckets, the first professional football team from the Bluegrass State.
Billy Zane, film producer and actor in such movies as “Titanic” and “Dead Calm” and ABC television’s “Guilt,” was enlisted to introduce the Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken in 2017.
Rob Lowe became Colonel Sanders in April 2017, in ads featuring the Zinger sandwich, wearing a spacesuit and talking about sending the product into space.
Actor Ray Liotta, known for his roles in the movies “Goodfellas” and “Field of Dreams,” became the Colonel in September 2017 to promote two flavors: Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken, and the Nashville Hot variety.
In December 2017, KFC tapped an unknown actor to play the Colonel, having Christopher Boyer play the role of the “Value Colonel” in ads based on the premise that, by saving money on actors, the Louisville, Ky.-based chain could pass the savings on to customers.
In January 2018, KFC tapped the first woman to play the Colonel as country singer Reba McEntire filled the role to promote the Smoky Mountain BBQ flavor.
After a two-year hiatus, George Hamilton rejoined KFC in April 2018 to promote an extra-crispy chicken sandwich dubbed the Crispy Colonel.
In August 2018, KFC played on Jason Alexander’s experience as a sitcom star — he played George Costanza in the hit 1990s series “Seinfeld” — in commercials that promoted the $20 Fill Ups.
In February 2019, KFC tapped the iconic cyborg RoboCop to play Colonel Sanders. The chain said Colonel RoboCop’s mission is to act as protector and preserve a copy of KFC’s secret recipe. Actor Peter Weller, who played the character in the 1987 movie, is voicing the Colonel in TV ads.
KFC introduced a new Colonel Sanders on its Instagram page April 8, 2019. The brand is calling him The Virtual Influencer Colonel. The latest iteration of the Colonel mocks today’s celebrity influencer using good looks and popularity to hawk consumer goods and products. The self-described “international mogul turned virtual person” has so-called brand partnerships with Dr Pepper, TurboTax and Old Spice, KFC said. His bio states that the Colonel is sharing his “unique blend of knowledge, positivity, and mindfulness, also known as the Secret Recipe for Success” with his followers. That tagline, “Secret Recipe for Success,” is prominently displayed as a tattoo on the new Colonel’s six-pack. The Virtual Influencer Colonel will be featured on KFC’s Instagram page through April 22.
In June 2019, KFC and Cheetos introduced Chester Cheetah as the newest Colonel. The announcement coincided with the launch of the Cheetos Sandwich, an Extra Crispy fried chicken breast in Cheetos dust with Cheetos snacks, a cheese sauce developed by brand owner Frito-Lay and mayonnaise on a bun.
In September 2019, KFC announced Sean Astin as the new Colonel. Astin's “Colonel Rudy” is a nod to his leading role in the 1993 sports film, “Rudy.” The ad is titled “Rudy II.” KFC said fans will see Rudy on a new quest to become Colonel Sanders. “The spot recreates several of the iconic scenes from the original Rudy film like the famous locker room speech and when Rudy is lifted up and carried off the field as a hero,” the company said.