Jimmy Dean

Jimmy Dean Biography

Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte

Jimmy Ray Dean was a multi-talented artist who made a name for himself in the entertainment industry as a country music singer, television host, actor, and businessman.

Born on August 10, 1928, in Seth Ward, Texas, Dean was raised in nearby Plainview and dropped out of high school in 1946 to help support his mother. He later served in the United States Air Force in the late 1940s, before becoming a professional entertainer.

Jimmy Dean made his mark in the music industry with his first hit “Bumming Around” in 1953. He signed with Columbia Records in 1957 and had a string of pop hits, including Little Sandy Sleighfoot and Sing Along. He was also the host of the popular Washington D.C. radio program Town and Country Time.


In 1961, Dean became best known for his recitation song Big Bad John, which made it to number one in the Billboard charts, selling over a million copies, and earning him a gold disc. He had several more top 40 songs, including a top 10 hit in 1962 with PT-109, a song honoring President John F. Kennedy’s bravery during World War II.

In the early 1960s, Dean appeared on various TV talk shows and game shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace. He hosted The Tonight Show on several occasions and introduced country singer Roy Clark to a wider audience. He also had his own variety series, The Jimmy Dean Show, which ran from 1963 to 1966 and helped bring country music into the mainstream.

After his television series ended, Dean turned to acting, with his best-known role being a reclusive Las Vegas billionaire in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. He appeared in several other TV shows, including Daniel Boone, Fantasy Island, and J.J. Starbuck.

In 1969, he co-founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with his brother Don and became the face of the brand through his humorous commercials. The company was later acquired by the Sara Lee Corporation, but Dean remained the spokesperson until he was phased out due to his age.

Jimmy Dean was a Virginia resident from 1990 and was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. He was nominated for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010, just before passing away at the age of 81. In his lifetime, he built a successful career in the entertainment industry and left behind a legacy worth over $50 million. He documented his life and career in his autobiography 30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham.