Country music legend Jimmy Dean passed away yesterday at his Henrico County, Virginia home at the age of 81. Achieving musical immortality for his 1961 country-pop smash Big Bad John, he would also go on to conquer television, film…and become a major business entrepreneur with a popular brand of breakfast sausage.
Dean was born in 1928 and spent his childhood in poverty in
In 1961, Dean released Big Bad John, a song that told the story of a mine cave-in and a larger-than-life coal miner who saved the lives of several co-workers by sacrificing his own. Written by Dean in a two-hour time span, it would become the singer’s biggest record, hitting not only the #1 spot on the country charts but becoming a pop smash as well. He followed John with a successful string of Top Tens that included P.T. 109 (also a pop hit), Dear Ivan, Little Black Book (one of my favorites), The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev’ry Night) (his last country chart-topper) and Stand Beside Me. His last record to hit the Country Top Ten was I.O.U. in 1976, a paean to motherhood that later became a Mother’s Day standard.
The success of John landed Dean an hour-long country music variety show over ABC in the fall of 1963 (he previously had both a daytime and prime-time show on CBS in 1957) that ran for three seasons, ending in 1966. Among the regulars on the show was a puppet hound created by Muppeteer Jim Henson who answered to “Rowlf”…and whom Dean often referred to jokingly as “my ol’ buddy.” (Rowlf later made his show business comeback on Henson’s The Muppet Show in the 1970s.) After the show’s run, Dean became a semi-regular on NBC’s dramatic adventure series Daniel Boone, playing the role of Josh Clements. He later spoofed his businessman image as “Willard Whyte” in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
Dean began his entrepreneurial foray into the sausage business in 1969, launching the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in his hometown of
In February of this year, it was announced that Jimmy Dean would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October. It will be a posthumous honor—but well-deserved nevertheless.
R.I.P, Jimmy. The P.T. 109 is gone, but you and your music will live on.