Billy Mays

2 minute read
Ron Popeil

Billy Mays knew how to sell. He was the consummate pitchman, rising from boardwalks to state fairs to short-form direct-response ads. By the time he died of heart disease on June 28 at 50, he was on television more than 400 times a week. To an aspiring inventor or an entrepreneur, his oratory was the difference between a pipe dream and a blockbuster.

With his trademark beard and booming voice, Billy conquered the challenge of selling more than a product to the consumer. Billy sold Billy. Many of his wares had been around in some form for 50 years, but Billy breathed new life into them. It didn’t matter whether he was hawking steamers or adhesive putty or his OxiClean brand.

Billy was first inspired to learn the art of the pitch after enjoying a Ginsu-knife demonstration on an Atlantic City, N.J., boardwalk. He realized that an eye-to-eye pitch has to be honest and salable to the core. It was this skill–along with verbal agility, stamina and likability–that he used to get consumers to buy products they never knew they needed. He carried the torch for vintage pitchmen, and I had hoped that he would continue to do so for a new generation. But his pitch was cut short far too soon.

Popeil is an inventor and a pioneer of the infomercial

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