Sunday, October 23, 2022

Billy Mays!


"The best things in life are free - and $19.95."
  --Billy Mays

William Darrell Mays, Jr., more famously known as Billy Mays, was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, on July 20, 1958.  He grew up in Pittsburgh, where he attended high school before accepting a football scholarship to West Virginia University.

Two years into his studies, Mays dropped out of college and moved to Atlantic City.  He went to work on the boardwalk where he began honing his craft.  He sold the Washmatik Portable Washing Device and other "As Seen on TV" products to passersby.

"I was taught to pitch by a lot of older pitchmen," Mays recalled. "That's the kind of style I have."

For the next twelve years, Mays traveled the country selling his wares at auto shows, state fairs and the like.  Then in 1993, while working a home show in his native Pittsburgh, Mays met Max Appel, founder of Orange Glo International, the manufacturer of several household cleaning products, including Oxi-Clean, Orange Glo, and Kaboom.  Appel hired Mays to sell his company's products on the Home Shopping Network.  That's how Mays became a household name.

Mays was an instant hit with viewers, if not so much with critics.  Known for his loud, abrasive style of pitching, one Washington Post writer described Mays as "a full-volume pitchman, amped up like a candidate for a tranquilizer-gun takedown."  Democracy dies in darkness.

In 1997, Orange Glo fathered a new company simply called OxiClean.  Mays became the face of this new company, shooting his first infomercial for the signature product itself in 2000.  Additional infomercials for Orange Glo and Kaboom would follow.

Having achieved financial success, Mays relocated to Odessa, Florida, and opened Mays Promotions, Inc.  He continued filming spots for "As Seen on TV" products, while also appearing in online ads for ESPN, including this awesome entry called Billy Mays on the Run

In 2009, he signed a contract with Taco Bell to produce "infomercial-style" commercials for the fast-food chain, but sadly, these commercials would never be produced.

On June 28th of that year, Mays was found unconscious and unresponsive in his Florida home.  His wife called paramedics, but by that point, he had already passed.  Dead at the age of 50. 

His death remained a mystery for several days.  Some believed he'd walked in on a home invasion and was murdered, but there were no signs of that.  Another theory was that he had died of head trauma received one day earlier when his plane made an emergency landing in Florida.  This too was ruled out.

Ultimately, the autopsy ruled that Mays had died of a heart attack.  Traces of cocaine and other drugs were found in his system, with this being listed as a contributing factor.  His heart went kaboom.

Billy Mays was laid to rest in Mount Calvary Cemtery in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.  

Rest in peace.

  • Mays was outlived by his father, who went on to write his son's biography.  You can pick up a copy of My Son, Billy: A Father Remembers the Greatest Pitchman Ever, from Amazon.

  • I watch a lot of news, but man, I forgot about the time that Mays interviewed President Obama.  Check it out on YouTube.

  • In honor of his TV persona, the pallbearers at Mays' funeral all wore blue button-down shirts and tan pants.  I did not make that up.

  • But wait, there's more!  At the time of his death, Mays was co-producing a reality series called Pitchmen for the Discovery Channel.  Each episode found Mays and fellow TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan traveling the world and meeting inventors, looking for products to be the next big thing.  You can watch the first episode in its entirety on YouTube.

  • Mays claimed that he wouldn't advertise a product unless he used it himself.  Ironically, he never advertised cocaine.

  • Some of his best quotes include "life's a pitch, then you buy," "long live your laundry," "I love beautiful wood," and the one he's best remembered for, "Hi, Billy Mays here for..."

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