Ode to a Pitchman

After a string of celebrity deaths last week comes the awful news that famed TV pitchman, Billy Mays, was found dead in his Tampa home this morning. Unlike Michael Jackson, Mays won’t have thousands of tribute parties thrown in his honor around the world. Mays also didn’t have the body of work or the rapport that actress Farrah Fawcett or Ed McMahon had with television audiences. While the passing of all of these famed individuals are sad occasions, I feel the most moved by the loss of Billy. Ironically, this wouldn’t have been the case a few months ago except that I’ve gained insight into the man via his series on the Discovery Channel – Pitchmen.

Until I started watching Pitchmen, I really hadn’t thought much about Mays except when he and his loud voice would boom across my TV screen to sell me OxiClean or another infomercial product. I usually changed the channel pretty fast and really didn’t give Billy the time of day. Then in April, Discovery started airing a series based on how infomercials are produced starring Mays and his pitch-partner Anthony Sullivan. The series followed the pair as they looked for the next big items to hock to the American public, gave us a peek at the process and the private lives of Anthony and Billy.

Through Pitchmen I learned that Billy Mays absolutely loved his family and his life as a salesman. He worked tirelessly to bring, what he thought, were the very best products into our home. Prior to Pitchmen I didn’t know that everything Mays pitched, he tested and stood behind 100%. If he wasn’t comfortable with a product, it wasn’t safe or it didn’t perform, it meant that Billy Mays didn’t put his name behind it. I also learned of the wonderful relationship he had with his son, Billy Mays III. His son had started to work with him on set and loved his dad with all his heart. When young Billy tweeted this morning that his dad was gone, it was a real shock. My thoughts and prayers go out to his son, his wife and young daughter in this difficult time.

I am grateful for the Discovery Channel’s look inside the life of Billy Mays before he passed. Although many people probably thought of him simply as the “loud infomercial guy”, as my wife says he was more than just a pitchman, he was a true icon. A man of gentle spirit, yet booming confidence. He loved his family and worked his entire life to get ahead. He brought a smile to my face, and made my life better in small ways with the products he pitched. I’m positive heaven will be an even cleaner place, now that Billy’s in it.