updated 8/9/2009 12:31:27 PM ET 2009-08-09T16:31:27

Jimmy Bedford, the slender and silver-haired former master distiller of the Jack Daniel's whiskey during a 40-year career with the company, died Friday. He was 69.

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His body was found outside a barn at his farm in Lynchburg, apparently the victim of a heart attack, company officials said.

Bedford retired in March 2008 after spending 20 years as the master distiller supervising the entire operation at the 143-year-old distillery in Lynchburg, the oldest registered one in the United States. Among his duties was tasting the whiskey before it was sent to retailers.

Bedford traveled the world as the promotional face behind the product. He appeared in one advertising photo standing behind a Jack Daniel's bottle with his arms folded.

"He was a friend and colleague to so many of us," said Phil Lynch, a spokesman for Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman, the parent company. "He was a major figure in the whiskey industry and will be missed."

Jack Daniel's, the flagship brand of Brown-Forman, is available in 135 countries with 9.5 million cases sold annually. The distillery is tucked away on a hilly, 1,700-acre plot in rural Tennessee, some 65 miles south of Nashville. The whiskey's black and white print ads for years have celebrated the rural lifestyle of the area.

Bedford started at the distillery in 1968 and worked in the yeasting, fermenting, milling and distillation areas. He became master distiller in 1988.

As master distiller, he was an ambassador for the product, traveling often to talk to consumers, distributors, retailers and others. He also signed some bottles and storage barrels, and hosted tasting seminars.

Bedford was asked to retire after being named in a $3.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit by a Texas woman. The suit was settled out of court.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Details on his survivors were not immediately available.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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