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Billy Mays

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Billy Mays
Billy Mays Portrait Cropped.jpg
Mays on June 13, 2009, fifteen days before his death
Born
William Darrell Mays Jr.

(1958-07-20)July 20, 1958
DiedJune 28, 2009(2009-06-28) (aged 50)
Resting placeMount Calvary Cemetery, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Other namesKing of the Pitch
OccupationTelevision direct-response advertisement salesman
Years active1983–2009
EmployerHome Shopping Network
Notable work
See products pitched
TelevisionPitchMen
Board member ofMays Promotions, Inc.
Spouse(s)
  • Dolores Mays (divorced)[1]
  • Deborah Mays[1]
Children2

William Darrell "Billy" Mays Jr. (July 20, 1958 – June 28, 2009)[2][3] was an American television direct-response advertisement salesperson. Throughout his career, he promoted a wide variety of products, including OxiClean, Orange Glo, Kaboom, and Zorbeez. His promotions aired mostly on the Home Shopping Network through his company, Mays Promotions, Inc although they aired on various other syndicated networks.

Mays and his business partner, Anthony Sullivan, were also featured on PitchMen, a Discovery Channel television series that documented their work. His distinctive beard, attire, and impassioned sales pitches made him a recognized television presence in the United States and Canada.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Mays was born on July 20, 1958, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby Pittsburgh.[2][6] He was a student at Sto-Rox High School,[2][6] and later West Virginia University, where he was a walk-on linebacker on its football team during his two years there.[7]

Career[edit]

Early work[edit]

After dropping out of college, Mays worked for his father's hazardous waste company before moving to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1983.[2] On the Atlantic City boardwalk, Mays sold the Washmatik portable washing device to passersby,[8] along with other "As Seen on TV" products.[2] In Atlantic City, he was taught how to sell by the older salesmen, saying "I was taught to pitch by a lot of old pitchmen. That's the kind of style I have."[2]

Mays then traveled to home shows, auto shows, and state fairs across the United States for a period of twelve years, selling various maintenance products and tools, including cleaning products and food choppers.[8]

Television pitching[edit]

At a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home show in 1993, Mays struck up a friendship with rival salesman Max Appel, founder of Orange Glo International, a Denver-based manufacturer of cleaning products. He was then hired by the company to promote their line of cleaners, OxiClean, Orange Clean, Orange Glo, and Kaboom, on the Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg, Florida.[9] That same year he also befriended another future pitchman, Anthony Sullivan. Customer response to Mays' sales pitches was enthusiastic, with a sharp increase in sales after his first day on the network, although some reviews were poor. He was very well known for shouting in an abrasive[10] manner during infomercials. For example, The Washington Post staff writer Frank Ahrens called him and other similar television salesmen "a full-volume pitchman, amped up like a candidate for a tranquilizer-gun takedown".[11]

In October 2000, Mays shot an infomercial for the then-three-year-old OxiClean corporation. He would be a staple of the brand, as well as for the wider company, Orange Glo. Later on he would appear in Kaboom infomercials.

Mays was the CEO and founder of Mays Promotions, Inc., based at his home in Odessa, Florida.[4] His services as a pitchman became highly sought-after, and he appeared in commercials for many diverse "As Seen On TV" products such as Mighty Putty. Mays claimed to be an avid user of the products he promoted.[12]

In December 2008, Mays began appearing in ads for ESPN's online service, ESPN360.[13] These ads were a slight departure for Mays as they were designed to be parodies of his and other infomercial clichés. He also made a live appearance during the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl promoting ESPN's and ABC's January 1, 2009, bowl games. Prior to his death, Mays had signed a deal with Taco Bell to film infomercial-style commercials for the chain. Shooting was scheduled to begin in August 2009.[14]

On April 15, 2009, the Discovery Channel began airing PitchMen, a documentary series that featured Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their jobs in direct-response marketing.[15] After Mays' death, Discovery Channel aired a special Billy Mays tribute special, Pitchman: A Tribute to Billy Mays.

On March 27, 2009, Mays appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He and Sullivan also appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on June 23, 2009,[16] five days before his death.

Personal life[edit]

Mays' first marriage was to Dolores "Dee Dee" Mays, which ended in divorce.[17] He had a son with Dolores named Billy Mays III (born 1987) who worked as a production assistant alongside his father on the PitchMen television show.[18] Mays had a daughter, Elizabeth, with his second wife, Deborah Mays. His daughter was three-years-old at the time of his death.[17][19][20] Mays' mother is Joyce Palm,[18] and his father is Billy Mays Sr.; he was survived by both.

In an interview during the 2008 presidential election, Mays said he was a Republican.[21]

Death[edit]

Mays was found unresponsive by his wife in his Tampa, Florida home on the morning of June 28, 2009.[22] He was pronounced dead at 7:45 a.m., appearing to have died sometime overnight. He died less than a month before his 51st birthday.[3][23] The Associated Press reported there were no indications that the house had been burglarized, and that police did not suspect foul play.[23] Initially, there was incorrect speculation that he had died of a head injury, after being struck on the head by luggage after an airline landing mishap where tires blew out.[24]

After an initial autopsy on June 29, 2009, Vernard Adams, the Hillsborough County, Florida medical examiner, stated that Mays suffered from hypertensive heart disease and that heart disease was the likely cause of his death. According to a toxicology report released August 7, 2009, heart disease was the "primary cause of death" and cocaine was listed as a "contributory cause of death."[25][26] In response to the release of the toxicology report, the Mays family issued a press release stating, "We are extremely disappointed by the press release released by the Hillsborough County medical examiner's office. We believe it contains speculative conclusions that are frankly unnecessary and tend to obscure the conclusion that Billy suffered from chronic, untreated hypertension" and said in the release that they were considering "an independent evaluation of the autopsy results".[27]

The medical examiner concluded that "cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and thereby contributed to his death," the office said in a press release. The office said Mays last used cocaine in the few days before his death but was not under the influence of the drug when he died. Hillsborough County spokeswoman Lori Hudson said that nothing in the toxicology report indicated the frequency of Mays' cocaine use. Cocaine can raise the arterial blood pressure, directly cause hypertrophy of the left ventricle, and accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the release said. However, in October 2009, the results of a second medical examination, commissioned by Mays' family, concluded that cocaine was not a "significant contributing factor" to his death.[28]

According to subsequent news reports,[29] the toxicology tests also showed levels of painkillers hydrocodone, oxycodone, and tramadol, as well as anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam and diazepam. Mays suffered from hip problems and was scheduled to have had hip replacement surgery the day after he was found dead.

Mays' funeral was held on July 3, 2009 in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. The pallbearers wore blue shirts and khaki pants at the funeral, much like Mays wore when he advertised his products.[30] He is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery.[31]

In the immediate aftermath of his death, many companies pulled ads featuring Mays from the air.[32] By mid-July, with his family's consent, some ads were put back into rotation,[33] alongside newer ones that Mays had filmed prior to his death.[33][32]

In popular culture[edit]

His catchphrase and infomercials made Billy Mays a notable icon in popular culture, with many shows, YouTube videos, and films lampooning him. In the South Park episode "Dead Celebrities", Mays' ghost appears repeatedly to Ike Broflovski, trying to sell him products from the afterlife with his catchphrase "Hi, Billy Mays here with the...". Mays' son, Billy III, a self-proclaimed South Park fan, said he loved "Dead Celebrities", and found its portrayal of his father to be both tasteful and respectful.[34]

He was portrayed by comedian Colin J. Sweeney in the season 1 episode of Epic Rap Battles of History, 'Billy Mays vs. Ben Franklin'. In the middle of the battle, Mays passes away and has his second verse covered by fellow infomercial pitchman, Vince Offer, portrayed by Peter Shukoff.[35]

Products pitched[edit]

Product Description
Awesome Auger[36] A gardening tool
Big City Slider Station[2][36] A mini-burger cooker
Crocodile Cutter[37] Cutter that cuts straight every time
DC Snowboards Snowboards
The Ding King[38] A dent repairing device
DualSaw[39] A circular saw with two blades
Engrave-it A tool to engrave your name on any metal surface
ESPN360[6] A broadband service
EZ Bundler A strapping tool that bundles objects together
EZ Crunch Bowl[39] "A new way to eat breakfast cereal"
Flies Away[40] A fly trap
Gator Blades Precision heavy duty windshield wiper blades
Gopher[41] A tool for grabbing out-of-reach objects
Grabit A tool that removes screws easily
Grater Plater[40] A ceramic plate with grater teeth
Green Now![39] Lawn fertilizer in a can
Grip Wrench[2] A tool to help gripping
Handy Switch[36] A wireless electric switch
Hercules Hook[36] A hook for hanging objects on a wall
iCan health insurance[36][38] Health insurance
Impact Gel A shoe insert
iTie[41] A necktie with a hidden pocket
Jupiter Jack Cell phone speaker system for the car
Kaboom![2] Tile and shower cleaner
Mighty Mendit[38] A bonding agent for mending cloth
Mighty Shine A soft powder that removes rust and tarnish from your metal objects
Mighty Putty[36][42] An epoxy putty adhesive
Mighty Putty Steel[42] A metal alloy adhesive putty
Mighty Putty Wood[42] A non-shrinking epoxy putty for wood
Mighty Tape[42] A self-fusing silicone rubber waterproof tape
Orange Glo[2] A wood cleaner
OxiClean[36][38] A general purpose cleaner
Quick Chop[40] A chopping device
Safety Beep[43] A stick-on alert device for vehicles moving in reverse
Samurai Shark[36] A knife sharpener
Sham-Wow A chamois cloth, named for the original French pronunciation
Simoniz Fix-It[36] A scratch remover
Steam Buddy A lightweight steam iron
Tool Band-it [40] A magnetic armband for holding hand tools
Turbo Tiger[2] A vacuum cleaner
Ultimate Chopper[36] A kitchen tool
Vidalia Slice Wizard[38] A kitchen tool
WashMatik[2][36] A hose that could pump water from a bucket
without being hooked up to a faucet
What Odor?[40] An odor-removing fluid
Zorbeez[36] A chamois cloth

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "TV pitchman Billy Mays found dead in Tampa home". Tampa Bay Online. June 28, 2009. Archived from the original on June 30, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Raw Data: Billy Mays Biography". Fox News. June 28, 2009. Archived from the original on July 1, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Report: 'Infomercial King' Billy Mays Found Dead in Home". FoxNews.com. June 28, 2009. Archived from the original on April 7, 2013. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Segal, David (August 19, 2008). "Shill Game: With His Booming Voice, Billy Mays Projects That Sales Will Rise". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  5. ^ "Infomercial pitchman Billy Mays found dead". CTV News At 11. CTV.ca. June 28, 2009. Archived from the original on July 31, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Brandolph, Adam (December 29, 2008). "'Life's a pitch' for McKees Rocks native Billy Mays". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Archived from the original on April 16, 2009. Retrieved June 30, 2009.
  7. ^ O'Keeffe, Brian (April 6, 2009). "Secrets of the TV pitchmen". CNNMoney.com. Retrieved November 8, 2009.
  8. ^ a b Rigsby, G.G. (May 3, 2002). "As seen on TV: Billy Mays hawks it all for a price". Tampa Bay Business Journal. Retrieved April 21, 2007.
  9. ^ "Company sold, local pitchman keeps his job," St. Petersburg Times, July 24, 2006.
  10. ^ Billy Mays's Death famously-dead.com. Retrieved 2016-05-19
  11. ^ Ahrens, F (September 26, 2004). "Miracle Infomercials— TV's Hard Sells Are a $256 Billion Business". The Washington Post. p. F01.
  12. ^ Associated Press, Mitch Stacy (December 29, 2002). "As seen on TV, pitchman Billy Mays cleans up with shtick — In-your-face salesman peddles fixes for car dents to cleaning products". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved April 21, 2007.
  13. ^ Gianatasio, David (December 23, 2008). "Billy Mays wants to sell you some ESPN360". AdWeek.com. Retrieved December 27, 2008.
  14. ^ Billy Mays Was Set to be Taco Bell's Pitchman | TMZ.com
  15. ^ "Discovery Channel Announces New Series "Pitchmen" Premiering April 15". Realitytvfans.com. March 2, 2009. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  16. ^ "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien: Lisa Kudrow, Billy Mays & Anthony Sullivan, Elvis Costello". TV.com. June 23, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  17. ^ a b "OxiClean pitchman dies at age 50". Austin American-Statesman. June 29, 2009. Archived from the original on September 17, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2009.
  18. ^ a b Billy Mays, Anthony Sullivan, Billy Mays III, Deborah Mays, Elizabeth Mays, Joyce Palm (June 2009). PitchMen: Billy's Legacy (Adobe Flash) (Internet video). Discovery Channel. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  19. ^ "Billy Mays' son remembers him on Fla. radio show". The Jackson Sun. June 29, 2009. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  20. ^ "Billy Mays III Remembers His Dad on Florida Radio Show". The Jacksonville Observer. June 29, 2009. Archived from the original on November 23, 2018. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
  21. ^ Grove, Lloyd (October 9, 2008). "World According to... Billy Mays". Portfolio.com. Archived from the original on November 20, 2008.
  22. ^ RAW DATA: Chilling Billy Mays 911 Tape Archived July 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Fox News. Monday, June 28, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-06-28.
  23. ^ a b "Cops: TV pitchman Billy Mays found dead". NBC News. Associated Press. June 28, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2009.
  24. ^ Karlie Pouliot (June 29, 2009). "Billy Mays — Did Head Injury Turn Deadly?". Fox News. Archived from the original on August 6, 2009. Retrieved August 8, 2009.
  25. ^ "Cocaine linked to Billy Mays death". The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. CNN.
  26. ^ "Autopsy: Cocaine contributed to Billy Mays' death". USA Today. Associated Press. August 7, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
  27. ^ Deborah Mays (August 7, 2009). "Statement from Billy Mays' Family In Response to Medical Examiner's Report" (Press release). Businesswire.com. RFB Communications Group.
  28. ^ "Mays' family: Review finds no chronic cocaine use". USA Today. Associated Press. October 15, 2009. Archived from the original on October 18, 2009. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  29. ^ "Mays' family contests cocaine report". NBC News. August 7, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  30. ^ "Joe Mandak (July 3, 2009). "Product pitchman Mays remembered as natural seller". Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 10, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  31. ^ Scott Wilson, Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, p. 492
  32. ^ a b Hennigan, W.J. "Billy Mays pitches from beyond the grave". L.A Times. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  33. ^ a b STELTER, BRIAN. "Billy Mays Is Gone, but His Infomercials Go On". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  34. ^ "Billy Mays III encouraging fans nationwide to dress like his deceased dad for Halloween". Tampa Bay Times. October 26, 2009. Archived from the original on September 18, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  35. ^ "Billy Mays vs Ben Franklin. Epic Battles of History". YouTube.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Segal, David (August 19, 2008). "Shill Game: With His Booming Voice, Billy Mays Projects That Sales Will Rise". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 30, 2009.
  37. ^ "Rare Billy Mays ad - The Crocodile Cutter - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  38. ^ a b c d e Maltby, Emily (June 29, 2009). "Billy Mays: An industry loses its voice" CNNmoney.com.
  39. ^ a b c "PitchMen". Discovery Channel. Archived from the original on April 11, 2009.
  40. ^ a b c d e "Top Ten Billy Mays Commercials". As Seen On TV Video. June 29, 2009. Retrieved June 30, 2009.
  41. ^ a b Barrett, Annie (June 29, 2009). "Billy Mays got Conan interested in the Gopher, iTie, and even 'The Tonight Show' last week". Entertainment Weekly.
  42. ^ a b c d "Mighty Brand Infomercials Back on the Air: Continuing Billy Mays' Legacy with New Mighty Products". Reuters. July 9, 2009. Archived from the original on February 1, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2012. (Press release)
  43. ^ "Billy Mays - Safety Beep". YouTube.

External links[edit]