The one country singer’s name you’re bound to see in the grocery store is “pure pork sausage” spokesman, television show host and “Big Bad John” singer Jimmy Dean.
Born Jimmy Ray Dean on Aug. 10, 1928 in Plainview, Texas, the high school dropout and Air Force veteran first gained notoriety in the ’50s as a singer and radio show host. His country music output includes his first top 10 Billboard hit “Bumming Around” (1953), the Grammy award winning and pop charts-invading “Big Bad John” (1960), the patriotic “P.T. 109” (1962) and the sentimental Mother’s Day song “I.O.U.” (1976).
Television Show Host and Actor
His hosting skills first came to light in 1954 on influential Washington D.C. television show Town and Country. Through that program, Dean met future Texas Wildcats bandmate Roy Clark and witnessed a then-unknown Patsy Cline emerge from Virginia to become one of the all-time greats.
In between his Town and Country gig and the mid-’60s popularity of The Jimmy Dean Show, the singer juggled a few different television gigs. He even served as one of the earliest guest hosts of the Johnny Carson-era Tonight Show.
The Jimmy Dean Show, which existed in different forms as far back as 1957 and previously appeared as an afternoon program for CBS, became part of ABC’s prime time lineup from 1963 to 1966. The program and its host offered a huge platform to George Jones, Buck Owens, Roger Miller and others right as Tennessee taste-makers and Nashville outcasts became more mainstream accessible.
However, its long-term effect on society had more to do with Muppets than music. Dean’s comedic sidekick was none other than Rowlf the dog, performed by Jim Henson. It was the first national prime time gig for a Henson creation and predates both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.
Dean occasionally showed off his acting chops, starting with the ’60s TV series Daniel Boone. His most famous role was as Willard Whyte from the 1961 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
Looping back to breakfast foods, the singer founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company in 1969 with his brother Don. Jimmy’s on-camera prowess made for charming commercials that likely had a hand in him claiming the “sausage king” crown. The company sold to Sara Lee in 1984 for a whopping $84 million. Although the Country Music Hall of Fame member passed away on June 13, 2010 in the Richmond, Virginia neighborhood Varina, his voice can still be heard in advertisements for half of the impetus behind his autobiography’s title: 30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham.