Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Dean, whose "Big Bad John" was a genre-crossing smash, died Sunday night in Virginia. He was 81.
A bold personality who founded the highly successful sausage company that bears his name, Dean helped spread country music's popularity through his recordings and through his status as a national television personality.
"I was one of the lucky people who really got to know him," said fellow Hall of Famer Bill Anderson. "Beneath that bravado, there was a wonderful human being. I've never had a better friend."
Born in Olton, Texas, in 1928, Mr. Dean served in the United States Air Force before breaking into show business. He helped Patsy Cline and Roy Clark get their starts in music, and he split time in the 1950s between television projects and recording endeavors. In 1961, he hit with the recitation "Big Bad John."
That million-selling recording wound up atop the Billboard pop charts, and it was a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording in 1962. It also helped Mr. Dean's star ascend to the point that he sometimes hosted The Tonight Show and also starred in his own television vehicle, ABC's The Jimmy Dean Show.
Mr. Dean had another major hit with the country chart-topping "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)," and he recorded a Top 10 country hit in the 1970s with "I.O.U."
In 1969, Mr. Dean founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company, which was later acquired by Consolidated Foods. In 2004, he released an autobiography, 30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham.
Mr. Dean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year, and was slated to attend a Medallion Ceremony commemorating his official induction in October. He is survived by his wife, Donna Meade Dean.