Jimmy Dean died yesterday, at age 81, of natural causes. The native Texan had many careers--first as a country music singer, then as an actor/television personality (dude had a supporting role in the Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever!), and, finally, as the founder of a sausage company, which was sold in 1984 to what is now known as the Sara Lee Corporation. It got us to thinking: Which of Dean's contributions--music or sausage--will most greatly impact his legacy?
The Music: Dean's first hit was the 1961 "Big Bad John," from a record that hit number one on the Billboard pop charts. The tune, about a heroic miner martyred on the job has some admirable lyrics--"He stood six foot six and 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 simplistic melody isn't charting any new territory, even for 1961. Also, is that background percussion the sound of finger cymbals, or somebody slapping two metal railroad spikes together?
The Food Even though we'd prefer to stick to only local, sustainable meats, we do still carry a little fond nostalgia for the gold-tipped tubes of classic Jimmy Dean. Still, the folks at Sara Lee did some serious damage to the brand with line extensions that include everything from little blueberry pancake-wrapped wieners to bagged "breakfast skillet" meals to turkey sausage sandwiches on whole grain bagels.
The Winner While Dean's sausage legacy will probably be the more enduring, it will not be a respectable one if Sara Lee keeps up with all these syrup-filled, batter-dipped, deep-fried sausage on a stick monstrosities. Perhaps Dean should be most remembered for his acting career--we'll rewatch his role as a reclusive Las Vegas billionaire and get back to you!