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.

A Valid Question

Blogger Andrew Sullivan raises a very poignant question, and one that I hadn’t really thought about until the murder of abortion clinic doctor George Tiller. Sullivan asks:

“What interests me is why these groups target a late-term abortion doctor. By their logic, there is nothing worse in killing an eight month-old fetus than an eight-minute old one. By my logic – see The Conservative Soul – there is an intuitive reason to worry more about babies that are much more developed than an enbryo. But I can’t see why Operation Rescue would believe that. I suppose it’s better marketing, because the images are so gruesome.”

The point Andrew makes is well taken. Namely that most Right to Life members believe that the instant a sperm fertilizes an egg, a human being is created. Destroying or aborting this person, no matter how few cells they are made of, is in essence nothing short of murder. If this is true, why is it that most anti-abortion groups only target late term doctors? If they were truly honoring their convictions wouldn’t they just as aggressively defend against destroying zygotes as they would late term fetuses?

We never hear of the biochemists who develop drugs like the so-called “morning after pill” being targeted for domestic terrorism, but doctors like George Tiller have had their clinics attacked and even their lives taken. Are these conservative groups practicing their own version of situational ethics when it comes to the unborn? Or are they simply playing the media so that they can be depicted in the best possible light with the public? I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I lean towards the latter, and if true it makes the whole lot hypocrites.