Billy Mays: The Pitchman Goeth : Monkey See Pitchmen star and longstanding infomercial giant Billy Mays passed away on Sunday, but fortunately, his last major public appearance was a pretty endearing one.
NPR logo Billy Mays: The Pitchman Goeth

Billy Mays: The Pitchman Goeth

I'm not going to beat around the bush: I can't remember the last time I wrote so much about death over a five-day period. But interestingly enough, of all the celebrities who have died recently -- Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson being the most noted ones -- the one I was watching in a current project was Billy Mays.

Mays, who died on Sunday, was one of the two stars of Discovery's Pitchmen, which followed the adventures he had with Anthony "Sully" Sullivan, another ubiquitous infomercial star. Each week, they'd find a new product and try to help develop it for direct-response sale on television (that's pitchman-speak for "infomercial"). Last week, Billy and Sully helped Survivor winner Ethan Zohn develop his idea for a two-chambered cereal bowl that holds the milk separately from the cereal to keep the cereal from getting soggy. Seeing a guy get all excited about how his invention is going to revolutionize cereal eating, only to test-market it and find that everyone says, "Looks like a dog bowl"? It's not meaningful, but it's a little entertaining.

I'm not trying to make Billy Mays more than he was; he made ads for OxiClean and the Awesome Auger, and he yelled, and he was sort of goofy and obnoxious. He was a huckster, but an unapologetic and good-humored huckster. In the above clip from The Tonight Show just last Wednesday night, he has great fun with Sully and Conan O'Brien demonstrating his total faith in the stuff he sells, along with his touchy feelings about the Shamwow.

Not an artist, but a guy I'd grown sort of fond of, and one I'll miss watching.