Jimmy Dean

Jimmy Ray Dean (August 10, 1928 June 13, 2010)[1] was an American country music singer, television host, actor, and businessman. He was the creator of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand as well as the spokesman for its TV commercials.

Jimmy Dean
Dean in 1966.
Background information
Birth nameJimmy Ray Dean
Born(1928-08-10)August 10, 1928
Plainview, Texas
DiedJune 13, 2010(2010-06-13) (aged 81)
Varina, Virginia[1]
Occupation(s)Singer, television host, actor, businessman
InstrumentsVocals, accordion, piano
Years active1953–2010
LabelsColumbia Records
RCA Victor

He became a national television personality starting on CBS in 1957. He rose to fame for his 1961 country music crossover hit into rock and roll with "Big Bad John" and his 1963 television series The Jimmy Dean Show, which gave puppeteer Jim Henson his first national media exposure.

His acting career included appearing in the early seasons in the Daniel Boone TV series as the sidekick of the famous frontiersman played by star Fess Parker. Later he was on the big screen in a supporting role as billionaire Willard Whyte in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

He lived near Richmond, Virginia, and was nominated for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010, though died before his induction that year at the age of 81.


Early life

Dean was born in Plainview in Hale County in West Texas in 1928, the son of George Otto Dean, and his second wife, the former Ruth Taylor. Ruth taught Jimmy how to play piano at a young age. He attributed his interest in music to the Seth Ward Baptist Church.[2] He dropped out of high school and became a professional entertainer after serving in the United States Air Force in the late 1940s. Dean was 22 and just starting in show business when he married his first wife Mary Sue (Sue) in 1950.

Entertainment career

Dean had his first hit, "Bumming Around," in 1953 on the 4 Star label (written by Pete Graves, credited to "C. Graves" on the Quality label). Dean signed with Columbia Records in 1957.

He had minor pop hits, such as "Little Sandy Sleighfoot" (a Christmas novelty song) and "Sing Along," later used as the theme for TV's "Sing Along with Mitch", hosted by chorus leader Mitch Miller.

In 1954, Dean hosted the popular Washington, D.C. radio program Town and Country Time on WARL-AM, and with his Texas Wildcats became popular in the Mid-Atlantic region. Patsy Cline and Roy Clark got their starts on the show. Although Cline and Dean became good friends, Clark (Dean's lead guitarist) was fired by the singer for what was explained as his chronic tardiness. Dean replaced Clark with Billy Grammer. In 1955, Town and Country Time moved to WMAL-TV (now WJLA-TV) on weekday afternoons. Dean and the Texas Wildcats also appeared during 1957 on Town and Country Jamboree on WMAL-TV on Saturdays, which was also carried by TV stations in neighboring Maryland and Virginia on a regional network.

Also during 1957 while he lived in Arlington, Virginia, Dean hosted Country Style on WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV). CBS picked up the show nationally from Washington for eight months in 1957 under the name The Morning Show.[3][4] Then from September 14, 1958, to June 1959, CBS carried The Jimmy Dean Show on weekday and Saturday afternoons.

Dean became best known for "Big Bad John," his 1961 recitation song about a heroic miner. Recorded in Nashville, the record went to number one on the Billboard pop chart and inspired many imitations and parodies. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.[5] The track peaked at number two in the UK Singles Chart.[6] The song won Dean the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. He had several more top 40 songs, including a top 10 in 1962 with "PT-109," a song in honor of President John F. Kennedy's bravery in World War II with the sinking of his PT-boat in the South Pacific Ocean by the Japanese.

In the early 1960s, he hosted The Tonight Show on occasion (he was the first guest host during Johnny Carson's tenure, hosting for the first time on January 14, 1963) and one night introduced country singer Roy Clark, with whom he had remained friendly. In the mid-1960s, Dean helped bring country music into the mainstream[7] with his 1963–66 variety series The Jimmy Dean Show. It presented country music entertainers including Roger Miller, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Buck Owens, and some (such as Joe Maphis) who seldom received network exposure. In 1964, he hosted Hank Williams Jr. in Williams' first television appearance at the age of fourteen. He sang several songs associated with his father, Hank Williams.[8] The program also featured comedy and a variety of popular music artists, and Dean's sketches with Rowlf the Dog, one of Jim Henson's Muppets. Henson was so grateful for this break that he offered Dean a 40% interest in his production company, but Dean declined on the basis that he did nothing to truly earn it and Henson deserved all the rewards for his own work. For the rest of his life, Dean made it clear that he never regretted this decision[9]

Dean appeared on several TV talk shows and game shows in the 1960s and performed on variety programs, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and The Hollywood Palace.[10] Dean turned to acting after his television series ended in 1966. His best-known role was as a reclusive Las Vegas billionaire Willard Whyte, inspired by Howard Hughes, in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971). He also appeared in fourteen episodes of Daniel Boone (1967–70) in three different roles (one episode as "Delo Jones," two as "Jeremiah," and 11 as "Josh Clements"); as Charlie Rowlands in two Fantasy Island episodes (1981–82); and on other television shows including a semi-regular role as Charlie Bullets on J.J. Starbuck starring Dale Robertson (1987–1988).[10]

Dean's singing career remained strong into the mid-1960s; in 1965, he achieved a second number one country hit with the ballad "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)," and he had a top 40 hit that year with "Harvest of Sunshine." In 1966, Dean signed with RCA Victor and immediately had a top 10 hit with "Stand Beside Me.". His other major hits during this time included "Sweet Misery" (1967) and "A Thing Called Love" (1968). He continued charting into the early 1970s with his major hits, including "Slowly" (1971), a duet with Dottie West, and a solo hit with "The One You Say Good Morning To" (1972).[11]

In 1976, Dean achieved a million-seller with another recitation song called "I.O.U.," a tribute to his mother and mothers everywhere. The song was released a few weeks before Mother's Day and quickly became a top 10 country hit, his first in a decade, and a top 40 pop hit, his first in 14 years. The song was re-released in 1977, 1983, and 1984, but with minor success each time.

In January 1978, Dean hosted an all-star tribute to Elvis Presley titled Nashville Remembers Elvis on His Birthday, during which he reminisced about his friendship with the recently deceased singer and performed his own hit "Big Bad John" and "Peace in the Valley."

Business career

In 1969, he founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company[1] with his brother Don. The company did well in part because of Dean's own extemporized, humorous commercials.[12]

The success of the company led to its acquisition in 1984 by Consolidated Foods, later renamed the Sara Lee Corporation. Dean remained involved as spokesman for the company, but the new corporate parent immediately began phasing him out of any management duties. In January 2004, Dean said that Sara Lee had dropped him as the spokesman for the sausage brand because he was too old.[13] In March 2004, Dean revealed that he had sold all but one of his shares in Sara Lee stock.[14] In 2018, several years after his death, the sausage company began re-airing some classic commercials featuring the voice of Dean introducing himself and praising the product.

Later years and death

In the 1980s, he and his wife and family were residents of Tenafly, New Jersey.[15]

A Virginia resident from 1990, Dean was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore appointed Dean to the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries, which oversees the state's wildlife efforts and boating laws. Dean owned a 110-foot yacht, named the Big Bad John, on which he hosted President George Bush on numerous occasions.[16] The two had originally met on Dean's cable show in Nashville, where Bush did an impression of Dean selling sausage.[17]

In the fall of 2004, he released his blunt, straight-talking autobiography 30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham. Dean lived in semi-retirement with second wife, Donna Meade Dean, a singer, songwriter, and recording artist he married in 1991, who helped him write his book. The couple lived on their property at Chaffin's Bluff overlooking the James River in Henrico County, on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. On April 20, 2009, the main house was largely gutted by a fire, although the Deans escaped injury. The Deans rebuilt their home on the same foundation and returned early in 2010.

Dean, who dropped out of high school in 1946 to work and help his mother, announced on May 20, 2008, a donation of $1 million to Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, the largest gift ever from one individual to the institution. Dean said: "I've been so blessed, and it makes me proud to give back, especially to my hometown."[18]

On February 23, 2010, Dean was nominated for the Country Music Hall of Fame; he was scheduled to be inducted in October 2010, but this occurred after his death.

Dean had three children, Garry, Connie and Robert, with his first wife Mary Sue (Sue) (née Wittauer) Dean, and two granddaughters, Caroline Taylor (Connie's daughter) and Brianna Dean (Robert's daughter). He married his first wife in 1950; she divorced him in 1990 because of his affair with country-singer Donna Meade who became his second wife.[19] Donna Dean married her childhood sweetheart Jason Stevens two years after Dean's death.[20]

Dean died at the age of 81, on June 13, 2010, at his home in Varina, Virginia. He was survived by his second wife Donna.[21] She told The Associated Press that her husband had some health problems but was still functioning well, so his death came as a shock. She said he was eating in front of the television; she left the room for a time and came back and he was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 7:54 p.m.[22] His estate was estimated to be worth over $50 million.

He was entombed in a 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) piano-shaped mausoleum overlooking the James River on the grounds of his estate. His epitaph reads "Here Lies One Hell of a Man", which is a paraphrased lyric from the uncensored version of his song "Big Bad John".[1][23]

On June 24, 2014, a groundbreaking was held for the Jimmy Dean Museum, which opened two years later on the grounds of Wayland Baptist University in his hometown of Plainview, Texas.[24] Dean's widow, Donna Dean Stevens, was present for the ceremony. The museum houses much of Jimmy Dean's memorabilia as well as a larger-than-life-size bronze created by Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale and funded by Hillshire Brands, owner of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand.[25] The museum is funded by a gift from the Dean Family Foundation.[26]


Diamonds Are Forever1971Willard Whyte
Big Bad John1990Cletus Morgan




The Swedish Girl band Troll had a hit in 1989 with a song named Jimmy Dean.

See also


  1. Weber, Bruce (June 14, 2010). "Jimmy Dean, Singer and Businessman, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  2. Adams, David (January 1, 2015). "Jimmy Dean Remembers Elvis Presley". Elvis Australia. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  3. "CBS Sets Night Slot for Dean". Billboard. Vol. 69 no. 21. May 27, 1957. p. 8. ISSN 0006-2510.
  4. "The Quick Rise of an Early Riser". Life. 43 (15): 78. October 7, 1957. ISSN 0024-3019.
  5. Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 133–134. ISBN 978-0214204807.
  6. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 146. ISBN 978-1904994107.
  7. McLellan, Dennis (June 15, 2010). "Jimmy Dean dies at 81; country music star and sausage king". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  8. "Hank Williams, Jr". IMDb. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  9. "A Hell Of A Man Himself". The Bluegrass Special.com. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  10. Jimmy Dean on IMDb
  11. "Hot Country Singles". Billboard. Vol. 84 no. 6. February 5, 1972. p. 38. ISSN 0006-2510.
  12. Calhoun, Fryar (August 1983). "Hi! I'm Jimmy Dean and I'd like you to try my pure pork sausage". Texas Monthly. Vol. 11 no. 8. pp. 121–123 198–200, 206. ISSN 0148-7736.
  13. Potter, Dena (June 13, 2010). "Jimmy Dean DEAD: Singer, Sausage Businessman Dies At 81". The Huffington Post.
  14. Vries, Lloyd (March 29, 2004). "Dean One Spicy Sausage King". CBS News. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  15. "Walter Jones Taylor Wed To Connie Elizabeth Dean", The New York Times, November 8, 1987. Accessed October 11, 2015. "At the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York yesterday Connie Elizabeth Dean, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Dean of Tenafly, N.J., was married to Walter Jones Taylor, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Zachary Taylor Jr. of Jackson, Miss...Her father, the country and western singer, is chairman of the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in Dallas."
  16. Hosler, Karen (September 3, 1991). "Lifestyle of the rich and famous: At White House, Bush lives it up". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  17. Warren, Ellen (January 19, 1993). "THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, MR. BUSH". Chicago Tribune.
  18. "Singer Jimmy Dean and wife donate $1 million to Wayland" (Press release). Wayland Baptist University. May 16, 2008. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  19. "NATION: Jimmy Dean Sued for Divorce". Los Angeles Times. October 31, 1991.
  20. "Donna Meade Dean to remarry". Richmond Times-Dispatch. August 5, 2015.
  21. "Plainview native Jimmy Dean's funeral services set Monday in Virginia". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Associated Press. June 17, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  22. "Jimmy Dean Obituary". Richmond Times-Dispatch. June 18, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  23. Pellerano, Angela (June 13, 2010). "Jimmy Dean Dies at The Age of 81". WRVR News. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2010.
  24. "The History of Jimmy Dean". Wayland Baptist University. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  25. Petty, Jonathan (June 24, 2014). "Wayland breaks ground on new Jimmy Dean Museum". Plainview Daily Herald. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  26. McDonough, Doug (July 8, 2014). "Work begins on Jimmy Dean Museum". Plainview Daily Herald. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
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