Country music singer and sausage company founder Jimmy Dean passed away at his Henrico, Virginia home this weekend at the age of 81. According to a brief statement by Jimmy’s wife Donna, Dean died of natural causes Sunday night, June 13th. Dean, who was experiencing health problems recently but was otherwise in good shape, was eating and watching television when Donna Dean found him unresponsive, CBS News reports. “He was amazing,” Donna Dean said of her husband. “He had a lot of talents.” Funeral service information is pending. Dean’s death comes just four months after he was named to this year’s Country Music Hall of Fame class. He was due to be inducted officially in October.
Over the course of his long career in entertainment, Dean was a singer, television host, actor and the spokesperson for the sausage company that he founded and to this day still bears his name. As the host of The Jimmy Dean Show in the late 1950s, Dean helped launch the careers of Patsy Cline and Roy Clark. In 1961, Dean had a Number One hit with the song “Big Bad John,” which won him a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording. The song was later covered by Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels. Dean had another country chart-topper with “The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev’ry Night)” in 1965. However, in the later part of the decade, Dean became more well known as a television personality, occasionally guest-hosting The Tonight Show and leading a second Jimmy Dean Show, where he developed a memorable rapport with the Muppets’ Rowlf the Dog (watch the video below).
After butchering hogs with his family in his youth, Dean and his brother formed the Jimmy Dean Sausage brand in 1969, and Dean served as its spokesperson until 2004, the same year he released his autobiography Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham. The company was sold to the Sara Lee Corporation in 1994. As an actor, Dean most notably appeared as a billionaire in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. He also starred in episodes of Murder, She Wrote, Daniel Boone and Fantasy Island and appeared in the film Big Bad John, based on his hit song.
Dean is survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren. Watch clips from his career below: