updated 7/16/2005 5:53:00 PM ET 2005-07-16T21:53:00

That smiling sun on Kentucky’s license plates was just a bit too cheerful for most drivers: Now Mr. Smiley’s headed for the recycling bin.

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The sunshine plates were met with ridicule when then-Gov. Paul Patton unveiled the design in December 2002. Gov. Ernie Fletcher is scheduled to announce the change at a news conference Tuesday.

Some drivers drew a mustache on the smiling sun’s image or covered it up with a frowning-face sticker or duct tape.

Others even paid extra money not to have Mr. Smiley greet other drivers with his motto, “Kentucky: It’s that friendly.” The backlash brought a surge in sales of specialty plates.

Criticism — and an award
“A lot of people found them to be so obnoxious they wouldn’t put them on their cars,” Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins said.

Despite the criticisms, the smiling sun won the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association 2003 award for best license plate, beating Maine’s lobster by one vote.

The Mr. Smiley plates will not completely vanish until all cars receive the “Unbridled Spirit” tags beginning Jan. 1. The new plates will have a small outline of Kentucky in the center.

Mr. Smiley even irritated some state legislators, who proposed several bills over the past two years to change the plates.

“I think it’s a fortunate situation that Mr. Smiley will disappear,” said Republican state Sen. Tom Buford, who sponsored some of those bills. “The state was not served well with an odd plate like that.”

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