Singer, songwriter, TV host and entrepreneur Jimmy Dean died Sunday (6/13) while watching TV at his home in Virginia. He was 81.
The Texas native was first a Country & Western music star, who achieved cross-over recognition with the 1961 hit “Big Bad John.” After appearing on various network TV shows, including subbing as host on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” Dean got his own primetime variety series in 1963 on ABC, “The Jimmy Dean Show.” It aired for three seasons and was one of the few network shows to regularly feature Country acts.
Dean also acted in several movies, most notably as a reclusive billionaire in the 1971 James Bond film, “Diamonds Are Forever.” He also continued his successful music career, with hits well into the ’70s. It wasn’t until February of this year, though, that he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 1969 he added a new twist by establishing the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with his brother Don. The brand’s success was no doubt due in no small part to the company’s folksy TV spots, with Jimmy as spokesman. The company was sold to Consolidated Foods, now known as the Sara Lee Corporation, in 1984.
“All of us at the Sara Lee Corporation are deeply saddened by the loss of such an iconic figure,” said a statement from Daryl Gormley, Vice President Breakfast and Snacking, Sara Lee North America Retail. “His legacy extends far beyond his development of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand and he will be missed by millions. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Dean’s family and loved ones and we will keep them in our thoughts during this difficult time,” he said.
Jimmy Dean, however, had expressed his public wrath at the company when he was let go as brand spokesman in 2003, issuing a statement entitled “Somebody doesn’t like Sara Lee.” He claimed the company dropped him because he was too old. Sara Lee said it was for a shift in marketing.
A year later, Dean published his no-punches pulled autobiography, “30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham.”