Jimmy Dean

Country music legend Jimmy Dean, who sang the country crossover hit "Big Bad John" and later became known for his sausage brand, has died, according to The Associated Press. He was 81.

See other celebrities we've lost this year

Dean died Sunday at his home on his 200-acre estate near Richmond, Va., wife Donna Meade Dean told the AP. Though he had health problems, she said his death came as a shock because he was still functioning well. She said Dean was eating in front of the television and she found him unresponsive when she returned in to the room.

A Texas native, Dean, who dropped out of school after ninth grade, experienced great success in the entertainment industry in the 1950s and '60s, including his nationally televised The Jimmy Dean Show.

Dean, who fronted his Texas Wildcats band, had his first national hit in the early 1950s, "Bummin' Around" and earned a Grammy for "Big Bad John" in 1961. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year and was to be inducted in October.

Dean became a headliner at such places as Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl as well as the Las Vegas strip. He served as a guest host on The Tonight Show, and acted in various TV and film roles, including 1971's Diamonds Are Foreveras James Bond's ally, reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte.

He started the Jimmy Dean Meat Co. in 1969 and sold it to Sara Lee Corp. in 1984.

His fortune was estimated at $75 million in the early '90s, and Dean said he learned to be smart with his finances.

"I've seen so many people in this business that made a fortune," he told the AP in 2004. "They get old and broke and can't make any money. ... I tell you something ... no one's going to play a benefit for Jimmy Dean."

Dean is survived by his wife, three children, and two grandchildren.