Death of a Pitchman

On Sunday, the string of celebrity deaths continued. I'll let other post tributes to Michael Jackson. The death that got me was that of the great pitchman.

"HI! BILLY MAYS HERE..." is a phrase we will be graced with at 2:00 AM now that Mays died on 2009-06-28.

From CNN:

"I'm a pitchman, my business comes from the pitch, nothing else," Mays said recently in an interview with Portfolio. "My voice, my likeness is my livelihood. That's it. I keep it simple. I pick good products."

Mays died Sunday at his home near Tampa, Florida. The Hillsborough County medical examiner Dr. Vernard Adams said Monday that Mays had heart disease.


Billy Mays was known for his Best Buy style of clothes (blue shirt, khaki pants), his beard, and the string of infomercials he did for Orange Glow, Oxi-clean, Mighty Putty and more. Some hated his loud, bombastic style, but I got a kick out it.

There is an emotional charge get when you start in on a great pitch. When you hit the right rhythm, the words just roll off your tongue like Mercury off a clean pane of grass. And your teeth tingle with exuberance.

Mays got his start hawking products on the Atlantic City boardwalk. He moved from speaking to dozens at a time to speaking to millions at a time. His energy made doing laundry exciting.

I'm sorry to have missed Pitchmen, his new behind the scenes series about the Made for TV industry and how those products got on there. All the reviews I've read indicate Mays seems like a nice guy. He only pitched products he believed in.

During one of my summer jobs I was a pitchman at the state fair. I interned at the Montana State Lottery in 1992. Sometime during the first day of the state fair in Great Falls, someone handed me the mike and asked me to make a quick announcement about a current lottery promo. And that was the start of my pitchman career.

I was on the PA from morning 'til night, with only a few breaks to pick up a viking, or fair pretzel, or polish sausage, or funnel cake. "By 5 tickets, get one free. You could be an instant winner of this brand new Ford F150 pickup truck! We had a $500 winner just this morning, and you could be next. Buy 5 tickets, get one fee. And do you know how big the Powerball jackpot is this week?"

I did that for days and had a great time. The other folks in the lottery booth liked it too because I kept the counters full. The folks at the Bingo hall across the fairway weren't all that pleased, but they eventually got over it.

My pitchman career took me back to the fair a couple years later selling water filters and related products. I was not as successful with that as I was with lottery tickets.

My career took me into retail sales and marketing, and today, I am a product evangelist -- a pitchman without a sales quota. And I love it.

I'm no Billy Mays (and I hear some of you sighing with relief) but I always admired his work. If I eventually end up doing his job -- promoting products I believe in during infomercials, well, that wouldn't be so bad.

So it was a sad day to learn of his mysterious death. He's a working class salesperson who made the big time.

When I get home, I'll reach under the sink, pull out the bottle, take off the cap, and pour some OrangeGlo on the floor in Billy May's memory. And I'll toss some Oxyclean over my shoulder for luck.

You can see Mays' last appearance on the Tonight Show here:


Mikes Sumondong said...

It's so sad that a lot of great celebrities are dying these past few days. what's up?

brokenteepee said...

The publicist's girlfriend and she worked a church carnival with a bunch of old stuffy ladies. They had the booth with the cans that people knocked over by throwing bean bags.

On most nights it made the least amount of money.

But then they would get in there and start their pitch....


heh heh. They made the most money of any booth any night they worked.

And they had the most fun.

dubster said...

We are a big fan and supporter of Billy Mays products, thats why when I heard last sunday from the news about his death I felt sad. no more Billy Mays here!!!

yanjiaren said...

May he R.I.P
You know in Greece we have a saying that death goes in threes and it always happens. It happens with my relatives too. Always three would die in the same year..