On an Atlantic City boardwalk, Billy Mays learned the trade of the pitchman. He was about 25 years old when he began his 25-year career that went from selling a portable washing device to ads on television devoted to his trade.
Success certainly wasn’t a given for Billy. He was born in Pennsylvania, and he went to school in Pittsburgh. After that, he went to West Virginia University for a couple of years where he was a walk on linebacker on the football team. When he dropped out, he worked for his father in the hazardous waste field before he began life as a pitchman.
After Jersey, Billy traveled for 12 years pitching cleaning materials among other things. It was in 1993 when he got together with a rival named Max Appel who founded the parent company of “Oxi-clean” in Denver. This was the call to fame that Billy Mays had been looking for.
People had mixed feelings about the bearded man who shouted at them from the television. He was charismatic in person, but many people never identified with the style that Billy learned standing on the beach in Atlantic City. Enough people did take note that he became a hot commodity on the “As seen on TV” circuits.
The fervent and rapid style that Billy used delivering his message was a bit reminiscent of a cranked up John Madden, but Billy seemed to be cranked up all the time. As his stock went up, everyone wanted him. He did some spots on ESPN and even appeared live at a bowl game promoting ESPN sports bowl coverage in 2008.
Billy appeared the picture of health, but that wasn’t the case. In April of 2009, the Discovery Channel began airing a documentary featuring the craft that Billy was such a master of, fittingly called “PitchMen.” Billy and fellow pitchman Anthony Sullivan were featured in the series.
Billy had a deal signed with Taco Bell to begin in August 2009 doing his flavor of pitching for the restaurant chain. He had appeared with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show and again with Conan O’Brien. Things were going well for him.
On August 27, 2008, Billy Mays died at his home in Florida; his wife found him the following morning. He conquered the selling market in a way like no other, but he couldn’t conquer the hypertensive heart disease that took his life.
There may never be another like Billy Mays, but why should there be? He deserves a place in history for the person and the pitchman that he was.
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