Jimmy Dean the Sausage King Dies at 81

Texas-Born Icon Was Also Country Singer, TV Star

By Published on .

Sad news came out of Virginia on Sunday: The latest casualty in the recent rash of celebrity deaths is beloved country singer, actor, TV personality and famed sausagier Jimmy Dean, who passed away at the age of 81.

Jimmy Dean
Jimmy Dean
Mr. Dean, a native of Plainview, Texas, rose to fame after the 1961 release of the country ballad "Big Bad John," which shot to the top of the Billboard charts and won him a Grammy award. He then went on to host his own variety show on ABC and was one of the first guest hosts of "The Tonight Show," among a smattering of other TV stints.

Mr. Dean released several more Top 40 country hits and enjoyed a brief but notable acting career, the feather of which was his co-starring role alongside Sean Connery in the 1971 James Bond installment "Diamonds Are Forever."

Mr. Dean founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company in 1969, and is best known to recent generations for starring in the company's folksy TV commercial campaign. Mr. Dean later sold the company to Sara Lee Corp.

Though his career as an entertainer launched him a successful media presence, it was his unique brand of honest-to-goodness Southern charm he employed in his earnest sales pitches that cemented his cultural legacy. Mr. Dean himself understood this, too; his 2006 memoir was aptly titled "Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham."

Mr. Dean is survived by his wife, Donna; three children; and two grandchildren.

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