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'Hi! Billy Mays here for . . .'

Joe Holley

If you were to measure the significance of a person's life -- and death -- by the range of random comments in the newsroom when they die, then Billy Mays, the ubiquitous TV pitchman, ranks right up there with Farrah Fawcett and just a step down from the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Walking around the newroom distributing a list of tomorrow's obits, I kept encountering stories about Billy Mays, who was found dead by his wife in their Tampa, Fla., home this morning.

He certainly insinuated himself into the culture. The people who lay out the newspaper deep into the night noted that anyone who works nights knows Billy Mays. Photographer John McDonnell dropped by to reminisce about the man who sold the world on the virtues of Oxi Clean, Orange Glo, Soft Buns and all the other items you didn't know you needed until Billy Mays told you so. John said his 6-year-old daughter saw him reading about Mays this morning at breakfast and exclaimed, "That's the Awesome Auger man!" She doesn't know what an auger is, but she knows Billy Mays.

Authorities have yet to determine the cause of death. Mays was 50.

By Joe Holley  |  June 28, 2009; 5:14 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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Billy was from Pittsburgh PA, and on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's site tonight you can find an article which includes the following:

"His former wife, Dolores 'Dee Dee' Mays, of McKees Rocks, Pa., recalled that the first product he sold was the Wash-matik, a device for pumping water from a bucket to wash cars.

"'I knew him since he was 15, and I always knew he had it in him,' she said of Mays' success. 'He'll live on forever because he always had the biggest heart in the world. He loved his friends and family and would do anything for them. He was a generous soul and a great father.'"

That's high praise coming from an ex-wife.

Rest in peace, Billy.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | June 28, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

My family had seen Billy Mays before this year, but really got to know him on the TV show Pitchmen. Not surprisingly, a reality show featuring two professional pitchmen was always fun and high energy. He and Anthony Sullivan had a great buddy relationship and we enjoyed the business side as much as the show business. We still have two or three of the shows stockpiled and plan to watch them in his memory. I hope Discovery continues to air those that they have in hand. I'm curious, though, whether the product manufacturers will keep running the commercials. I think they should.

Based on what we saw on the show, Billy Mays is survived not only by his wife but by at least two kids, the young (toddler-age) daughter of his current marriage, and the young adult son from his first marriage, similarly bearded, who was on staff for the Pitchmen show behind the scenes. What a horrible shame.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | June 28, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Few people have an effect on me. Mays was one. He may have been a good guy to his family, but when I saw that patent-leather beard and heard that high-pitched whine, I didn't change channels, I shut off my television.

Posted by: gkam | June 28, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

gkam, he had that effect on me too.

He could never have sold me anything, I recoil from high-voltage sales pitches.

Oddly, though, having read a bit about him during the past year in the Pittsburgh paper, I've developed a deep-seated respect for him.

First off, some of us (this is not directed at you) have become so sophisticated that we think a "salesman" must be some lower life form. Happily, in Pittsburgh, where the collapse of heavy industry has had an enormous effect, some of us are ready to be self-critical about that attitude.

If we don't have something to sell on the world market, and don't believe in it and aren't willing to hector people about how good it is, maybe unless our surname is Heinz or Mellon, we've given up before the game is over, and are ready to lean back and collect Social Security before we really ought to.

Sales is a tough business, hard on the ego. A lot of people (myself among them) simply can't do it.

There should be no stigma, though, attached to an honest person who has that extrovert thing going and puts it to good use as a pitchman for entrepreneurs who are convinced they have something to offer the marketplace.

Even though it might make me turn the channel every time I see it.

High up many corporate ladders are people whose jobs are described as "manager of marketing" or some such thing, and they're sophisticated people. One of them was my late father. I'll bet some of them
appreciate Billy Mays' skills. I think he would have.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | June 28, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I honestly belive a lot of the people who would buy the products he hawked are burly gay men!

Posted by: cowboyjohn57 | June 28, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Robbnitafl | June 29, 2009 12:07 AM | Report abuse

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