How Jimmy Dean Went From “Big, Bad John” Singer to Sausage King

The Jimmy Dean Show
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When you think of the name Jimmy Dean, chances are you think of sausage and breakfast sandwiches. It wasn’t always that way. Jimmy Dean was a country singer and television host before he was labeled the Sausage King. He grew up poor in the state of Texas and dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. Later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force.

THE JIMMY DEAN SHOW, Rowlf the Dog, Jimmy Dean, 1963-66

Everett Collection

After Dean was discharged in 1948, he began pursuing a career in music with his band, the Texas Wildcats. As he established himself as an entertainer, he hosted The Jimmy Dean Show, credited as the first show to feature Jim Henson‘s Muppets. He occasionally hosted The Tonight Show and was the first guest host during Johnny Carson‘s run in the ’60s. Dean reached No. 1 on the country and pop charts with his 1961 hit song “Big, Bad John,” which became country music’s first gold record. He achieved another No. 1 hit with the ballad “The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev’ry Night).”

Dean also pursued an acting career and appeared in early seasons of the Daniel Boone television series as the sidekick. He appeared in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever as billionaire Willard Whyte, alongside the late Sean Connery.

Jimmy Dean, 1957-1959 The Jimmy Dean Show

Everett Collection

In 1969, Dean used his earnings from his entertainment career to start Jimmy Dean Meat Co. with his family. At first, Dean and his brother ground the meat, while their mother seasoned it. The company has now grown to epic proportions and has been in business for over 50 years, despite Dean’s death in 2010 at the age of 81. It has been said that the company took off because of Dean’s funny commercials. Do you remember any of them?

Despite being largely remembered for his meat company, Dean’s gravestone pays tribute to his singing career. The phrase, “Here lies one hell of a man,” from his hit song is etched onto the piano-shaped gravestone that lies in Varina, Virginia, where he lived in his later years. For those who are big fans of Dean, there is now a Jimmy Dean Museum, held in his hometown of Planview, Texas.

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