Jimmy Dean, the story-telling country music artist who created America’s No. 1 selling breakfast sausage, is dead at age 81.
His death comes more than 25 years after he sold the Jimmy Dean Sausage Co., which today is owned by the Sara Lee Corp.
When Jimmy Dean went into the sausage business in the early 1970s, he largely left behind his career in music and television. From then on when the public saw him, it was mostly as the chief spokesmen for his products when consumers grew to trust largely based on Dean’s word.
He did have to put down consumer revolt after the basic package for his breakfast sausage was reduced to 12 ounces, down from 16. Dean responded by bringing back the 16 ounce package.
For about 20 years before he got into sausage making, the singer-story teller was a dominant personally on television, which Americans were quickly adopting as their medium of choice.
He made an easy transition as a television personality after the country came to know him for his song stories, like “Big John” and “PT 109.” On TV, it was Jimmy Dean who first introduced the public to acts like “The Muppets.”
But he got his start in country music, appearing with the likes of Patsy Cline and Roy Clark. Cline and Dean were hosts of “Town and Country Time.”
Dean was a CBS favorite, hosting both a variety show in the late 1950s and “The Morning Show” in the early 1960s. His recording of “Big Bad John” was recognized with a Grammy Award in 1962, the same year he did “PT-109” to honor President Kennedy’s wartime exploits.
He moved on to both NBC as a sometimes host of “The Tonight Show” and ABC, where “The Jimmy Dean Show” introduced numerous country stars to a more mainstream audience.
Dean was also a movie and TV actor, with his biggest role being in the 1971 James Bond movie as reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte in “Diamonds Are Forever.”
His recordings continued to top the music charts as late as 1976, when his Mother’s Day song “I.O.U.” became a huge success. Other popular Jimmy Dean songs that preceded that included: “The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev’ry Night,,” “Stand Beside Me,” “Sweet Misery,” “A Thing Called Love,” and “The One You Say Good Morning To.”
The Jimmy Dean Sausage Co. was founded in 1969 with its first plant in Plainview, TX. He continued in management after selling the company to Consolidated Foods in 1984. Dean has not been used as a spokesman for the now Sara Lee-owned brand since 2004.
However, Dean’s impact on the meat industry did not go unrecognized. He was among the first class of inductees for the new Meat Industry Hall of Fame, which were honored last October in Chicago.
The Meat Industry Hall of Fame took note of Dean’s approach to television advertising. “Without notes or hesitation, Dean simply smiled into the red eye of the camera–as he’d done a thousand times before–and talked about how much he cared about quality, how great the sausage tasted and how he’d guarantee every customer would enjoy the product, or they’d get their money back.”
Ironically, Dean was inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame before being invited into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which just occurred last February.
“During the 1950s and 1960s, Jimmy Ray Dean’s homespun charm, good looks, and upbeat manner won new audiences for country music through the emerging medium of television,” says the Country Music Hall of Fame.