Famed country singer, actor and entrepreneur Jimmy Ray Dean was
born on August 10, 1928, in Olton, Texas, to working-class parents.
Raised in Plainview, Dean's Depression-era upbringing saw him
experience abject poverty. His father floated in and out of Jimmy's
early life, once slaughtering the young boy's pet goat in order to
put food on the table. His mother sewed clothes for Dean and his
siblings using sugar sacksóclothes that brought Dean heavy ridicule
from his peers. Dean later credited this hard-knock upbringing with
giving him his entrepreneurial spirit, and burning desire to
succeed. "I think the kids in school that laughed at the clothes
that we wore and the house that we lived in and then my mother had
to cut hair ... I think that was a good motivator," Dean later told
reporters. "Every time they laughed at me, they just built a fire
and there was only one way to put it outóto try and show 'em I was
as good as they were."
He dropped out of high school and
became a professional entertainer after serving in the United States
Air Force in the late 1940s.
He became a national television personality starting on CBS in
1957. He rose to fame for his 1961 country music crossover hit into
rock and roll with "Big Bad John" and his 1963 television series The
Jimmy Dean Show.
His acting career included appearing in the early seasons in the
Daniel Boone TV series as the sidekick of the famous frontiersman
played by star Fess Parker. Later he was on the big screen in a
supporting role as billionaire Willard Whyte in the James Bond movie
Diamonds Are Forever starring Sean Connery.
In 1969, he founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with his
brother Don. The company did well in part because of Dean's own
extemporized, humorous commercials.
The success of the company led to its acquisition in 1984 by
Consolidated Foods, later renamed the Sara Lee Corporation. Dean
remained involved as spokesman for the company, but the new
corporate parent immediately began phasing him out of any management
duties. In January 2004, Dean said that Sara Lee had dropped him as
the spokesman for the sausage brand because he was too old. In March
2004, Dean revealed that he had sold all but one of his shares in
Sara Lee stock. In 2018, several years after his death, the sausage
company began re-airing some classic commercials featuring the voice
of Dean introducing himself and praising the product.
Dean died June 13, 2010, at the age of 81. His estate was
estimated to be worth over $50 million.