(AP) Jimmy Dean, a country music legend and an entrepreneur known for his namesake pork sausage brand, has died. His wife, Donna Meade Dean, said her husband died at their Henrico County, Va., home. He was 81.

Dean's wife told The Associated Press that he had some health problems but was still functioning well, so his death came as a shock. She said he was eating in front of the television. She left the room for a time and came back and he was unresponsive. She said he was pronounced dead at 7:54 p.m. Sunday.

Born in 1928, Dean was raised in poverty in Plainview, Texas, and dropped out of high school after the ninth grade. He went on to a successful entertainment career in the 1950s and '60s that included the nationally televised "The Jimmy Dean Show." Dean was well known for his smash hit about a workingman hero, "Big Bad John."

In 1969, Dean went into the sausage business, starting the Jimmy Dean Meat Co. in his hometown. He sold the company to Sara Lee Corp. in 1984.

Dean lived in semiretirement with his wife, who is a songwriter and recording artist, on their 200-acre estate just outside Richmond, where he enjoyed investing, boating and watching the sun set over the James River.

In 2009 a fire gutted their home, but his Grammy for "Big Bad John," a puppet made by Muppets creator Jim Henson, a clock that had belonged to Prince Charles and Princess Diana and other valuables were saved. Lost were a collection of celebrity-autographed books, posters of Dean with Elvis Presley and other prized possessions. Donna Meade Dean said the couple had just moved back into their reconstructed home.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. June 21 at Grove Avenue Baptist Church, followed by a private interment at Dean's home.

In February, Dean was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was to be inducted in October.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.