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Jimmy Dean

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Jimmy Dean
Dean in 1966
Dean in 1966
Background information
Birth nameJimmy Ray Dean
Born(1928-08-10)August 10, 1928
Seth Ward, Texas, U.S.
DiedJune 13, 2010(2010-06-13) (aged 81)
Varina, Virginia, U.S.
  • Singer
  • television host
  • actor
  • businessman
  • philanthropist
  • Vocals
  • accordion
  • piano
Years active1953–2010

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, and his likeness continues to be used in advertisements after his death.[2]

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 gave puppeteer Jim Henson his first national exposure with his character, Rowlf.

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 film Diamonds Are Forever (1971), starring Sean Connery.

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


Jimmy Dean: "Nine Pound Hammer"

Early life[edit]

Dean was born on August 10, 1928, in Seth Ward, Texas[1] and raised in nearby Plainview, the son of George Otto Dean and his second wife, the former Ruth Taylor. Ruth taught Jimmy how to play piano at the age of 10.[3] He attributed his interest in music to the Seth Ward Baptist Church.[4] He dropped out of high school and became a professional entertainer after serving in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1940s.[3] Dean was 22 and just starting in show business when he married his first wife, Mary Sue, in 1950.

Entertainment career[edit]

Dean had his first hit, "Bumming Around", in 1953[3] 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.[3] 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.[3] 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 County, 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.[5][6] Then from September 14, 1958, to June 1959, CBS carried The Jimmy Dean Show on weekday and Saturday afternoons.[3]

Dean became best known for "Big Bad John", his 1961 recitation song about a heroic miner.[3] Recorded in Nashville, the record went to number one on the Billboard pop chart and inspired many imitations and parodies.[3] It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.[7] The track peaked at number two in the UK Singles Chart.[8] The song won Dean the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording.[3] 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,[3] 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[9] 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 14. He sang several songs associated with his father, Hank Williams.[10] 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 had done 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.[11]

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.[12] 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) with Sean Connery as Bond. He also appeared in 14 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).[12]

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)",[3] 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".[3] His other major hits during this time included "Sweet Misery" (1967) and "A Thing Called Love" (1968).[3] He continued charting into the early 1970s with his major hits, including "Slowly" (1971), a duet with Dottie West,[3] and a solo hit with "The One You Say Good Morning To" (1972).[13]

In 1976, Dean achieved a million-seller with another recitation song called "I.O.U.", a tribute to his mother and mothers everywhere.[3] The song was released a few weeks before Mother's Day and quickly became a top 10 country hit, his first in 10 years, 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[edit]

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.[14]

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.[15] In March 2004, Dean revealed that he had sold all but one of his shares in Sara Lee stock.[16] 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.[2]

Later years and death[edit]

In the 1980s, he and his wife and family were residents of Tenafly, New Jersey.[17]

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, Big Bad John, on which he hosted President George Bush on numerous occasions.[18] The two had originally met on Dean's cable show in Nashville, where Bush did an impression of Dean selling sausage.[19]

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 his 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 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."[20] Dean and his wife also donated generously to Varina High School to reward academic scholars.

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.[21] Donna Dean married her childhood sweetheart Jason Stevens two years after Dean's death.[22]

Dean died on June 13, 2010, at the age of 81 at his home in Varina, Virginia.[1] He was survived by his second wife Donna.[23] She told the Associated Press that he was doing well health-wise, so his death came unexpectedly. She recollects that he was eating dinner while watching television, she left the room, and when she came back in he was unresponsive. He was declared dead at 7:54 pm.[24] 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][25]

The Jimmy Dean Museum in Plainview, Texas, shares the same building as The Museum of the Llano Estacado on the campus of Wayland Baptist University.

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.[26] 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 statue created by Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale and funded by Hillshire Brands, owner of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand.[27] The museum is funded by a gift from the Dean Family Foundation.[28]


Year Title Role Notes
1963-1975 The Jimmy Dean Show Himself - Host
1967-1970 Daniel Boone Delo Jones/Jeremiah/Josh Clements
1969 The Ballad of Andy Crocker Mack TV movie
1971 Diamonds Are Forever Willard Whyte
1972 Rolling Man Lyman Hawkes TV movie
1977 The City Wes Connors TV movie
1981-1982 Fantasy Island Charlie Rowlands/Beau Gillette 2 episodes
1987-1988 J.J. Starbuck Charlie Bullets 9 episodes
1990 Big Bad John Cletus Morgan
Murder, She Wrote Bobby Diamond Episode: "Ballad for a Blue Lady"



  1. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ a b "Is Jimmy Dean's real voice used in new commercials?". November 30, 2018. Archived from the original on January 18, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 659/660. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  4. ^ Adams, David (January 1, 2015). "Jimmy Dean Remembers Elvis Presley". Elvis Australia. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  5. ^ "CBS Sets Night Slot for Dean". Billboard. Vol. 69, no. 21. May 27, 1957. p. 8. ISSN 0006-2510.
  6. ^ "The Quick Rise of an Early Riser". Life. Vol. 43, no. 15. October 7, 1957. p. 78. ISSN 0024-3019.
  7. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 133–134. ISBN 978-0214204807.
  8. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 146. ISBN 978-1904994107.
  9. ^ McLellan, Dennis (June 15, 2010). "Jimmy Dean dies at 81; country music star and sausage king". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  10. ^ "Hank Williams, Jr". IMDb. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  11. ^ "A Hell Of A Man Himself". The Bluegrass Special.com. Archived from the original on October 20, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Jimmy Dean at IMDb
  13. ^ "Hot Country Singles". Billboard. Vol. 84, no. 6. February 5, 1972. p. 38. ISSN 0006-2510.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Potter, Dena (June 13, 2010). "Jimmy Dean DEAD: Singer, Sausage Businessman Dies At 81". The Huffington Post.
  16. ^ Vries, Lloyd (March 29, 2004). "Dean One Spicy Sausage King". CBS News. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  17. ^ "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."
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Warren, Ellen (January 19, 1993). "THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, MR. BUSH". Chicago Tribune.
  20. ^ "Singer Jimmy Dean and wife donate $1 million to Wayland" (Press release). Wayland Baptist University. May 16, 2008. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  21. ^ "NATION: Jimmy Dean Sued for Divorce". Los Angeles Times. October 31, 1991.
  22. ^ "Donna Meade Dean to remarry". Richmond Times-Dispatch. August 5, 2015.
  23. ^ "Plainview native Jimmy Dean's funeral services set Monday in Virginia". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Associated Press. June 17, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  24. ^ "Jimmy Dean Obituary". Richmond Times-Dispatch. June 18, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "The History of Jimmy Dean". Wayland Baptist University. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  27. ^ Petty, Jonathan (June 24, 2014). "Wayland breaks ground on new Jimmy Dean Museum". Plainview Daily Herald. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  28. ^ McDonough, Doug (July 8, 2014). "Work begins on Jimmy Dean Museum". Plainview Daily Herald. Retrieved September 19, 2015.

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