Jimmy Dean, Singer and Sausage Man, Dead at 81

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How’s this for eclectic: Dean’s career was spent a third crooning, a third acting and a third producing the breakfast sausage.

Born in Plainview, Texas in 1928, Dean began his career as a radio host in Washington, D.C., launching the careers of other country notables like Patsy Cline and Roy Clark. He had his first hit in 1961, with “Big Bad John,” a song that earned him a Grammy and helped launch his TV career as host of The Jimmy Dean Show on ABC. He guest-hosted The Tonight Show early in Johnny Carson’s run, but turned from TV to acting in the late 1960s, playing a role in the 1971 James Bond flick, Diamonds are Forever.

But outside of entertainment, Dean was best known for his company. He founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage company in 1969 and remained the company’s pitchman through 2004, when he alleges he was pushed out because of his age. (The company was sold to Sara Lee in 1984.)

Dean died in Virginia on Sunday night of natural causes, according to the Henrico County Police department.