The Real Connection: Popeyes Was Named After A Narcotics Detective
You hear Popeye, and you probably think of that sailor man who smoked way too much pipe and had a serious spinach addiction. You hear Popeyes, and you think fried chicken in your face hole, like, right now. So what’s the connection here? How did we get from Popeye and his ever-ready cans of spinach to Louisiana spicy fried chicken? Was it a stand against vegetarianism? Did the creator of the famous chicken chain look at Popeye’s bulging arms and think, “Those arms look like birds that I want to fry and eat immediately!”...?
Turns out, no, Popeye had nothing to do with the naming of Al Copeland’s now-international restaurant chain because Copeland actually named it after a character in a little movie called The French Connection.
The 1971 Oscar-winning crime thriller was based on the real story of NYPD detectives going after a rich French heroin smuggler while throwing around racial slurs and macho anti-heroism. One of the lead detectives, played by Gene Hackman in a funny-looking hat, is named one Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, who sometimes calls himself Popeye because there’s a link between machismo and bulging spinach arms, we guess. Or maybe it’s just because they both have squinty eyes.
20th Century Studios/Paramount Pictures
It’s kind of strange that anyone would name their fried chicken restaurant after a narcotics cop who has no problem shooting someone in the back and call it self-defense, but when you look at the kind of man Popeyes owner Al Copeland was, it starts to make more sense (kind of). See, Copeland was a man of splendor who loved three things more than he loved Cajun-spiced chicken: 1) Throwing ridiculously huge and lavish parties, 2) speedboats, and 3) fast cars.
The man collected Lamborghinis and custom-made Jaguars like cops collect bribes and Get Out Of Jail Free cards. Given that The French Connection also features Hackman’s Popeye in a car chase scene that’s been heralded as the greatest car chase scene of all time, it’s probably easy to see why Copeland decided to name his fast-food restaurant after the other squinty-eyed guy.
In any case, he was clearly gunning for some kind of name with notoriety attached to it. After all, Copeland only renamed his business Popeyes after “Chicken on the Run” didn’t quite work out.
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