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Country Music Star Jimmy Dean Dead at 81

  • Doug Levine

Country singer, actor and sausage entrepreneur Jimmy Dean died Sunday, June 13 at his home in Virginia. He was 81. Dean was one of Country music's most memorable personalities.

Jimmy Dean's music career spanned more three decades, but his success in the recording studio was nearly overshadowed by his best-selling brand of sausage and other breakfast foods.

Jimmy Ray Dean first learned to play accordion and harmonica while growing up in Plainview, Texas. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he settled in Washington, D.C. where he hosted a local radio show called "Town and Country Time" with his band The Texas Wildcats.

During this time, Dean launched his singing career with Columbia Records and produced a string of minor hits in the 1950s. In 1961, he became an international sensation with the release of "Big Bad John," a song he co-wrote with another country legend, Roy Acuff.

Dean's tale of a heroic miner nicknamed "Big Bad John" shot to Number One on both the country and pop charts, and won the Grammy Award for Best Country and Western Recording. Dean followed with his own nationally-televised variety show, which ran for three seasons. Soon, he was headlining at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Dean has the distinction of being the first-ever guest host on "The Tonight Show," and he was the first country star to play in the Las Vegas tourist district known as "The Strip."

In 1969, Dean founded the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in his hometown of Plainview, Texas. Millions will always remember him as the charming and mild-mannered spokesman of his own television commercials for Jimmy Dean Pork Sausages.

When Dean sold his company in 1984, he continued to build on his acting career, that earlier included a supporting role in the 1971 motion picture, "Diamonds Are Forever," part of the James Bond action series. One of Dean's starring roles came in the 1990 film, "Big Bad John," based on his Grammy-winning single. Dean was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year, and was scheduled to be inducted in October.

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