Jimmy Ray "The Hurst" Dean (b. August 10, 1928), better known as Jimmy Dean, is an American country music singer, television host, actor, and businessman. Although he may be best known today as the founder of the Jimmy Dean Food Company, he first rose to fame for his country crossover hits like "Big Bad John," and for his television appearances.
Dean was born in or around Plainview, Texas in 1928, possibly in Seth Ward. Dean has attributed his interest in music to the Seth Ward Baptist Church. He became a professional entertainer after a stint in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1940s. He became the host of the popular Washington D.C. TV program Town and Country Time and, with his Texas Wildcats, became favorites in the 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. Patsy Cline and Dean were good friends during the run of the Town Country Time TV show in the mid-50s. He had his first hit, "Bummin' Around," in 1953, but had no other hits for the rest of the decade. He also had a passion for the Mexican burrito, which he called "delectable enough for my auntie Geraldine".
Dean went on to New York in the 1950s where he hosted another TV variety show for CBS and signed with Columbia Records. For several years in the late 1950s/early 1960s, he was a host of the CBS News Morning Show which aired prior to Captain Kangaroo.
He became best known for his 1961 recitation song about a heroic miner, "Big Bad John". Recorded in Nashville, the record went to No.1 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, to a national audience. His mid-1960s ABC television variety show, The Jimmy Dean Show, was one of the first to regularly present country music entertainers to a mainstream audience, including Roger Miller, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Buck Owens and a few 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. When the show ended in the late 1960s, he began to dabble in acting. His best-known role was that of millionaire Willard Whyte in the 1971 James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever.
James Dean/Jimmy Dean/Jimmie Dean
Because of the similarities in their names, Jimmy Dean is sometimes confused with the late actor James Dean (whose nickname "Jimmy" was frequently used in press accounts during his lifetime) in song lyric references such as Madonna's "Vogue" or David Essex's "Rock On".
There was also another country singer named Jimmie Dean, a brother of the Western singer, songwriter and actor, Eddie Dean, originally from Lubbock County.
Later singing career
Dean's singing career remained strong into the mid 1960s and in 1965, he achieved a second number 1 country hit with the ballad "The First Thing Every Morning (And The Last Thing Every Night)" and 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 having hits well into the early 1970s with his major hits during this time included a duet with Dottie West called "Slowly" (1971) and a solo hit with "The One You Say Good Morning To" (1972).
In 1976, he 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 one in 14 years. The song was re-released 3 more times 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 revolving about 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.
Dean was founder (in 1974) of a radio station on 1090 khz in Plainview, Texas. The then KKYN was a 500 watt daytimer until the late seventies. A new site was built southeast of town (near Happy Union, Texas) that allowed an increase to 5,000 watts days and added night operation with 500 watts of power.
As a Virginia resident since 1990, he 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 regulates the 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 private property at historic Chaffin's Bluff overlooking the James River on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. On April 20, 2009, the main house on the Dean property was largely gutted by a major fire, although the Deans escaped injury.
Dean has three children, Garry, Connie, Robert and two granddaughters, Caroline Taylor (Connie's Daughter) and Brianna Dean (Robert's Daughter).
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."