Question: My wife and I were eating Jimmy Dean sausage for breakfast and were wondering what ever happened to him. Why isn't he in those commercials anymore? Tony R., Newport News, Va.
Televisionary: Funny you should ask, Tony, since Jimmy Dean and wife Donna address that question in their Dean autobiography, Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham (Berkley), due out next month. And from Dean's perspective, at least, it's not a pretty story.
According to his account, everything was hunky-dory in 1984 when Consolidated Foods, parent company of such brands as Sara Lee, Coach, Hanes and Champion, bought the Jimmy Dean Meat Company from the singer, who was earlier known to the public as the singer of the folk hit "Big Bad John" and the host of his own musical-variety TV show from 1957 to 1966. But over the next two decades, he grew unhappy with working under a large conglomerate (which eventually changed its name to Sara Lee) as it slowly took his decision-making power away and replaced his executives. "I sat back and watched all these changes being made as they blatantly showed me they didn't trust my judgment," he wrote. "Stress, as we all know, can affect your health, and by the late 1990s, my struggles with the meat company were beginning to take its toll. The doctor put me on sleeping pills because I was having such a hard time sleeping at night. I'd lay there with my wheels turning, worried about how I was going to keep a grasp on things."
In 2001, Dean suffered a series of mini-strokes, losing most of the vision in his right eye and leaving him unsteady on his feet. The following year, the company decided to quit using Dean on camera in its ad campaigns, and not long after that he was informed he was "no longer needed" as company spokesman. Dean says he still receives "a good chunk of money" from the company to use his name.