Dean as Willard Whyte in Diamonds are Forever
|Birth name||Jimmy Ray Dean|
|Born||August 10, 1928|
|Origin||Olton, Texas, U.S.|
|Occupations||singer, actor, businessman|
|Associated acts||Roy Clark, Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich|
|Website||Jimmy Dean's Web site|
Jimmy Ray Dean (b. August 10, 1928) is an American country music singer, television host, actor, businessman and 2010 inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Although he may be best known today as the creator of the Jimmy Dean Sausage brand, he first rose to fame for his 1961 country crossover hit "Big Bad John"; and became a national television personality in the 1960s. His acting career included a supporting role in the 1971 James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever. He lives today near Richmond, Virginia.
Dean was born in Olton, Texas in 1928. He has attributed his interest in music to the Seth Ward Baptist Church. He dropped out of high school and became a professional entertainer after a stint in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1940s. According to his personal website, www.deancountry.com, he was the host of the popular Washington D.C. radio program Town and Country Time on WARL, and with his Texas Wildcats became popular in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Both Patsy Cline and Roy Clark got their starts with Dean, who eventually fired Clark, his lead guitarist, for his chronic tardiness. Dean replaced Clark with Billy Grammer. Cline and Dean became good friends during the run of Town and Country Time in the mid-50s. He had his first hit, "Bummin' Around", in 1953, but had no other hits for the rest of the decade.
Dean hosted another TV variety show for CBS in New York in the 1950s, where signed with Columbia Records. For several years in the late 1950s–early 1960s, he was a host of the CBS News program, The Morning Show, which aired prior to Captain Kangaroo.
Dean became best known for his 1961 recitation song about a heroic miner, "Big Bad John". Recorded in Nashville, the record went to number one on the Billboard pop charts and inspired many imitations and parodies. The song won Dean the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. He had several more Top 40 songs including a Top 10 in 1962 with "PT-109", a song in honor of John F. Kennedy's heroism in World War II.
In the early 1960s, he hosted the Tonight Show on occasion and one night introduced Roy Clark, with whom he'd remained friendly. His mid-1960s ABC-TV variety series, The Jimmy Dean Show, was one of the few to regularly present country music entertainers to a mainstream audience, including Roger Miller, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Buck Owens and some, like Joe Maphis, who seldom received network exposure. He is also remembered for his sketches with one of Jim Henson's Muppets, Rowlf the Dog.
Dean turned to acting after his TV show ended in 1966. His best-known role was as reclusive Las Vegas billionaire Willard Whyte in the 1971 James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever. He also appeared as Josh Clements in six episodes of Daniel Boone (1967–70) and as Charlie Rowlands in two Fantasy Island episodes (1981–82), as well as on other TV shows.
Dean's singing career remained strong into the mid-1960s; in 1965, he achieved a second number one country hit with the ballad "The First Thing Every Morning (And The Last Thing Every Night)", and he had a Top 40 hit that year with "Harvest Of Sunshine". In 1966, Dean signed with RCA Records and immediately had a Top 10 hit with "Stand Beside Me". His other major hits during this time included "Sweet Misery" (1967) and "A Thing Called Love" (1968). He continued charting into the early 1970s with his major hits including a duet with Dottie West, "Slowly" (1971); and a solo hit with "The One You Say Good Morning To" (1972).
In 1976, Dean achieved a million-seller with a recitation song as a tribute to his mother and mothers everywhere called "I.O.U.". The song was released a few weeks before Mother's Day and quickly became a Top 10 country hit, his first one in a decade, and a Top 40 pop hit, his first in 14 years. The song was re-released in 1977, 1983 and 1984, but with minor success each time.
In 1969, he founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with his brother Don and James M. Dean, grandson of Sam E. Dean of Dean's Milk Co. Despite problems concerning his partner-brother Don Dean, the company did well, in part because of Dean's own extemporized, humor-themed commercials.
Its success led to its acquisition in 1984 by Consolidated Foods, later renamed the Sara Lee Corporation. Dean remained involved in running the company, but the new corporate parent eventually began phasing him out of any management duties, a period that took a toll on his health. In January 2004, Dean said that Sara Lee had dropped him as the spokesman for the sausage brand.
A Virginia resident since 1990, Dean was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore appointed Dean to the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries, which oversees the state's wildlife efforts and boating laws.
In the fall of 2004, he released his blunt, straight-talking autobiography 30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham. Dean lives in semi-retirement with second wife, Donna Meade Dean, a singer, songwriter, and recording artist he married in 1991 who helped him write his book. The couple live on their property at Chaffin's Bluff overlooking the James River in Henrico County on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. On April 20, 2009, the main house was largely gutted by a fire, although the Deans escaped injury. The Deans rebuilt their home on the same foundation and returned early in 2010.
Dean, who dropped out of high school in 1946 to work to help his mother, announced on May 20, 2008, a donation of $1 million to Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, the largest gift ever from one individual to the institution: "I've been so blessed, and it makes me proud to give back, especially to my hometown."
On February 23, 2010, Dean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Dean has three children, Garry, Connie and Robert; and two granddaughters, Caroline Taylor (Connie's daughter) and Brianna Dean (Robert's daughter).
Because of the similarities in their names, Dean is sometimes confused with actor James Dean in song lyric references of Madonna's "Vogue" or David Essex's "Rock On". James Dean's nickname "Jimmy" was frequently used in press accounts during his lifetime.