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FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2004 file photo, sausage entrepreneur Jimmy Dean poses with his wife, Donna Meade, at their home in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, file)
Jimmy Dean, the sunny country music star who branched into acting before starting a sausage company that bore his name, died Sunday at age 81.
Dean, who recorded a No. 1 hit in 1961 with "Big Bad John," the ballad of a heroic miner killed in a collapse, died in his home on200-acre estate Virginia, according to his wife.
"He was amazing," Donna Meade Dean said of her late husband. "He had a lot of talents."
Dean had been sitting down to eat dinner in front of the television when his wife went into the other room, according to The Associated Press. When she returned, he was unresponsive and was later pronounced dead.
Dean, who played Fess Parker's pal Josh Clements in "Daniel Boone," was an accomplished music and TV star when he started the Jimmy Dean Meat Co. in 1969. He became the face of the company, recording commercials in which he guaranteed the quality of his company's sausage. Fifteen years later, he sold the company to Sarah Lee Corp. for an estimated $75 million, though he continued as the company's pitchman untiil 2003.
The sausage business was a natural for Dean, who was born Seth Ward on a hog farm in Plainview, Texas. He dropped out of high school after the ninth grade. After a stint in the Air Force, he became an entertainer. He hosted CBS' "The Morning Show" and in addition to "Big Bad John," recorded "PT-109," a song which honored President John F. Kennedy Jr.'s service in World War II.
Even after becoming a meat magnate, Dean kept a hand in acting, playing James Bond's ally Willard Whyte in 1971's "Diamonds are Forever."