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    Jimmy Dean, Country Legend and Sausage King, Dead at 81

    Jimmy Dean, the Country Music Hall of Famer who later in life became equally famous as the purveyor of his own brand of breakfast sausage, passed away Sunday evening at the age of 81.

    His wife, Donna Meade Dean, told the Associated Press Dean died of natural causes in front of the TV set in their Virginia home while she was out of the room.

    As a country crooner, Dean scored a number one smash hit in 1961 with "Big Bad John," which paid tribute to a mysterious miner who saves 20 men after a mine accident. The song went on to win a Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording.

    The entertainer also forged a successful career in television, hosting his own variety program, The Jimmy Dean Show, in the '50s and early '60s, CBS News' The Morning Show, and performing on The Ed Sullivan Show and serving as a guest on numerous talk shows and game shows.

    Dean also tried his hand at acting, whether it was (sorry) hamming it up in skits with Jim Henson's Muppet, Rowlf the Dog, co-starring as reclusive Las Vegas billionaire Willard Whyte in the 1971 James Bond flick, Diamonds Are Forever, or appearing in NBC's frontier adventure, Daniel Boone, and ABC's Fantasy Island.

    But younger folks perhaps know him best from supermarket shelves where his line of Jimmy Dean sausages, which he created in 1969, reportedly earned him millions. He later sold the company to the Sara Lee Corporation in 1984, but after years as its main pitchman, was dropped as the brand's spokesman in 2004.

    Dean is survived by his second wife, Donna, three children and two granddaughters. No word yet on funeral arrangements.

    ________

    Our archive of obituaries for other late stars can be found here.

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