Remembering Jimmy Dean: A man of many facets

By Matt Butner - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond is remembering Jimmy Dean. Dean died last night at age 81 at his home in Varina, following an entertainment and business career spanned several decades. Some have forgotten his early music career, which helped turn Dean into an American icon.

On their morning show on K95, Catfish and Lori broke from heavy rotation Monday to play a Jimmy Dean classic- the Grammy-winning coal mining ballad "Big Bad John." Catfish recited the lyrics from memory during an interview in his studio:

"He was 6 foot 6, weighed 245/ Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip/ and everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John."

The song helped launch Dean to stardom- he hosted his own national television show in the 60's. He appeared in several movies, including the 1971 James Bond film "Diamonds are Forever." In 1969, he started his sausage company, for which he is still known to this day.

Dean was a native Texan, but called Virginia home for the last two decades of his life.

"I was amazed at how Richmonders loved him. We don't play any of his music right now, but they have so adopted Jimmy Dean," said Lori Kelly of Catfish and Lori, who met Dean several times at community events.

Dean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year.

"A lot of people think he was a one-hit wonder, but he wasn't. He had at least 3 number 1 songs that I can remember," said Catfish.

But it was the heroic "Big Bad John" that put Dean on the map in 1961.

"There was a mine cave-in, and he went down and saved a bunch of miners, and died in the process," said Catfish.

The song is just one of Dean's lasting legacies.

"He's going to be the sausage king to me, but Fish is giving me the history, and making sure I really know who he is," said Kelly.

Sausage king, film and television star, country singer-- Jimmy Dean was all of these things, and more.

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