by Kathy Wolfe
Here is Tidbits’ tribute to guys from various walks of life named Jim!
• In 1912, Oklahoma-born Jim Thorpe became the first Native American to win Olympic gold medals, victorious in the pentathlon and decathlon in Stockholm, Sweden. The King of Sweden called him the greatest athlete in the world. Yet within months, Thorpe’s medals and titles were revoked when it was discovered he had been paid for playing two seasons of minor league baseball, violating the rules of amateur status. The following year, he signed to play major league baseball with the New York Giants, the first of four MLB teams in his six-year career. Three years into his baseball career, this phenomenal athlete began playing pro football at the same time. Thorpe played football for 13 years, retiring at age 41. His next move was a Hollywood acting career, appearing in more than 60 films from 1931 to 1950. In 1951, Thorpe’s life was immortalized in the movie “Jim Thorpe – All-American,” with Burt Lancaster in the role of the famous athlete. Thirty years after his death in 1953, the International Olympic Committee restored Thorpe’s Olympic titles and medals. In 1986, professional athletes were allowed to compete in the Olympics.
• When you hear the name Jimmy Dean, maybe your first thought is sausage, but there was much more to this man than breakfast sandwiches! Dean was first a country singer and radio and television host, beginning with his first hit “Bumming Around” in 1953. His 1954 radio program launched the careers of Patsy Cline and Roy Clark. Dean was a TV personality on CBS by 1957 and had a blockbuster hit “Big Bad John” in 1961, #1 on the Billboard charts, a million-copy gold record, and a Grammy Award winner. A TV variety series, “The Jimmy Dean Show,” was next, running from 1963 to 1966. He had a role in TV’s “Daniel Boone” series, and even a role in a James Bond movie opposite Sean Connery. He founded his sausage company in 1969. When he died in 2010, he was entombed in a 9-foot-tall (2.7-m) piano-shaped mausoleum overlooking the James River on his Virginia estate.
• Jimmy Dean helped another famous Jim boost his career, when he regularly featured one of his creations on “The Jimmy Dean Show.” Puppeteer Jim Henson brought his piano-playing dog, Rowlf, to the program in 1963. In 1969, PBS approached Henson to be part of their new ground-breaking children’s educational show, “Sesame Street.” He became nationally famous with his puppet characters Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird. Henson called them “muppets,” a combination of the words “marionette” and puppets.” “The Muppet Show” premiered in 1976 and ran for five seasons. A full-length film “The Great Muppet Caper” was next in 1981. In 1984, “Muppet Babies” debuted, a seven-year run for Henson. His successful career, including 4 Emmy Awards, was cut short in 1990, when he died at age 53 from complications of bacterial pneumonia.
• Remember the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown?” It was written and recorded by Pennsylvania musician Jim Croce and hit #1 on the Billboard charts in July, 1973. After several unsuccessful studio albums and numerous singles, Croce’s breakthrough came in 1972 with “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Time in a Bottle.” The day before his fifth album containing “I Got a Name” was to be released, at the height of his career, Croce was killed in a plane crash, perishing at age 30.
• Jim Croce was friend and mentor to another Jim, one who rocketed to fame with “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday.” With the death of Croce, his record company reached out to Jimmy Buffett to help fill the space. Buffett’s first Top 40 hit, “Come Monday” was in 1974. “Margaritaville” spent 22 weeks on the charts in 1977, and was the inspiration for the singer’s chain of restaurants, followed up with a second chain, Cheeseburger in Paradise. Buffett is also a “New York Times” Best-Selling author, with at least six books, in addition to two children’s books co-written with his daughter. Also an avid baseball fan, Buffett has been part-owner of two minor-league teams. Anheuser-Busch launched Buffet’s beer label, LandShark Lager,” in 2006. His music, tours, businesses, and writing have all contributed to his estimated net worth of $600 million.
• Jimi Hendrix and his band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows closed out the Woodstock Music & Art Fair on August 18, 1969, the final musician to perform during the four-day concert. He took the stage at 8:30 Monday morning due to delays cause by rain. Held in New York state on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, the event was attended by 400,000 people. Woodstock was the scene of Hendrix’s now-famous rendition of the U.S. national anthem. In 1969, Hendrix was the world’s highest-paid rock musician. In September of 1970, he was dead at age 27.
• “Hey, Vern, It’s Ernest!” Actor Jim Varney first shouted that phrase in 1987 when “Ernest Goes to Camp” was released. Varney played the role of hillbilly Ernest P. Worrell in 9 movies, including “Ernest Saves Christmas,” Ernest Goes to Jail,” and “Ernest in the Army.” He won an Emmy Award for his children’s series, which aired in 1988, featuring conversations with his unseen friend Vern. In the midst of all the slapstick comedy, Varney had a love of Shakespeare and desired to perform Hamlet, but had been typecast in the goofy Ernest role. He frequently wore disguises so that fans wouldn’t recognize him. Varney did go on to star in the big-screen version of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and voiced Slinky Dog in the “Toy Story” franchise. As a lifetime chain smoker, Varney succumbed to lung cancer at age 50.
• Where is Jimmy Hoffa? That was the big question in 1975 when the labor union leader and activist disappeared from the parking lot of a Detroit restaurant. Well-known as being involved with organized crime, the Teamster leader had been convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud. He served less than five years of his 13-year sentence before being released from prison in 1971. In July, 1975, Hoffa was scheduled to meet with Mafia kingpins to settle their feuds and develop a “peace agreement.” He was never seen alive again. Decades of searching various Michigan sites by FBI agents turned up nothing. One widely-held theory was that Hoffa was buried under the new Giants’ Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey, which was under construction at the time of his disappearance. As recently as 2020, the search was back on in a 53-acre New Jersey landfill with no definitive results. It’s believed among experts that he was cremated in 1975 by his assassins. No one has ever been charged.