American television direct-response advertisement salesperson most notable for promoting Fix-it, OxiClean, Orange Glo, Kaboom, Zorbeez, and other cleaning, home-based, and maintenance products on the Home Shopping Network, and through his company, Mays Promotions, Inc. He and his business partner, Anthony Sullivan, were also featured on PitchMen, a Discovery Channel television series that documented their work. His distinctive beard, attire, and impassioned sales pitches made him a recognized television presence in the United States and Canada.
Early life …
Mays was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania and raised in nearby Pittsburgh. He was a student at Sto-Rox High School, and later West Virginia University, where he was a walk-on linebacker on its football team during his two years there.
Early work …
After dropping out of college, Mays worked for his father's hazardous waste company before moving to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1983. On the Atlantic City boardwalk, Mays sold the Washmatik portable washing device to passersby, along with other "As Seen on TV" products. In Atlantic City, he was taught how to sell by the older salesmen, saying "I was taught to pitch by a lot of old pitchmen. That's the kind of style I have."
Mays then traveled to home shows, auto shows, and state fairs across the United States for a period of twelve years, selling various maintenance products and tools, including cleaning products and food choppers.
Television pitching …
At a Pittsburgh home show in 1993, Mays struck up a friendship with rival salesman Max Appel, founder of Orange Glo International, a Denver-based manufacturer of cleaning products. He was then hired by the company to promote their line of cleaners, OxiClean, Orange Clean, Orange Glo, and Kaboom, on the Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg, Florida. That same year he also befriended another future pitchman, Anthony Sullivan. Customer response to Mays' sales pitches was enthusiastic, with a sharp increase in sales after his first day on the network, although some reviews were poor. He was very well known for shouting in an abrasive manner during infomercials. For example, Washington Post staff writer Frank Ahrens called him and other similar television salesmen "a full-volume pitchman, amped up like a candidate for a tranquilizer-gun takedown".
...In October 2000 he shot an informercial for the then-three-year-old OxiClean corporation. He would be a staple on the group, as well as the more common company at the time, OrangeGlo. Later on he would appear in Kaboom infomercials.
Mays was the CEO and founder of Mays Promotions, Inc., based at his home in Odessa, Florida. His services as a pitchman became highly sought-after, and he appeared in commercials for many diverse "as seen on TV" products such as Mighty Putty. Mays claimed to be an avid user of the products he promoted.
In December 2008, Mays began appearing in ads for ESPN's online service, ESPN360. These ads were a slight departure for Mays as they were designed to be parodies of his and other infomercial cliches with Mays appearing to be doing a parody of himself. He also made a live appearance during the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl promoting ESPN's and ABC's January 1, 2009, bowl games. Prior to his death, Mays had signed a deal with Taco Bell to film infomercial-style commercials for the chain. Shooting was scheduled to begin in August 2009.
Other television appearances …
On April 15, 2009, the Discovery Channel began airing PitchMen, a documentary series that featured Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their jobs in direct-response marketing. After Mays' death, Discovery Channel aired a special Billy Mays tribute special, Pitchman: A Tribute to Billy Mays.
On March 27, 2009, Mays appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He and Sullivan also appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on June 23, 2009, five days before Mays' death.
Personal life …
Mays' first marriage was to Dolores "Dee Dee" Mays, which ended in divorce. He had a son with Dolores named Billy Mays III, who was 22 years old at the time of Mays' death and who worked as a production assistant alongside his father on the PitchMen television show. Mays had a daughter, Elizabeth, with his second wife, Deborah Mays. His daughter was three years old at the time of his death. Mays' mother is Joyce Palm, and his father is Billy Mays Sr.; they both outlived him.
In an interview during the 2008 presidential campaign, Mays revealed himself to be a Republican.
Mays was found unresponsive by his wife in his Tampa, Florida home on the morning of June 28, 2009. He was pronounced dead at 7:45 am, appearing to have died sometime overnight. The Associated Press reported that there were no indications that the house had been broken into, and that police did not suspect foul play. Initially, there was incorrect speculation that he had died of a head injury after he was struck on the head by luggage after an airline landing mishap where tires blew out.
After an initial autopsy on Mays' body on June 29, Vernard Adams, the Hillsborough County, Florida medical examiner, stated that Mays suffered from hypertensive heart disease and that heart disease was the likely cause of his death. According to a toxicology report released August 7, 2009, heart disease was the "primary cause of death" and cocaine was listed as a "contributory cause of death." In response to the release of the toxicology report, the Mays family issued a press release stating, "We are extremely disappointed by the press release released by the Hillsborough County medical examiner's office. We believe it contains speculative conclusions that are frankly unnecessary and tend to obscure the conclusion that Billy suffered from chronic, untreated hypertension" and said in the release that they were considering "an independent evaluation of the autopsy results".
The medical examiner "concluded that cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and thereby contributed to his death," the office said in a press release. The office said Mays last used cocaine in the few days before his death but was not under the influence of the drug when he died. Hillsborough County spokeswoman Lori Hudson said nothing in the toxicology report indicated the frequency of Mays' cocaine use. Cocaine can raise the arterial blood pressure, directly cause hypertrophy of the left ventricle, and accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the release said. However, in October 2009, the results of a second medical examination, commissioned by Mays' family, concluded that "cocaine was not a significant contributing factor" to his death.
According to subsequent news reports the toxicology tests also showed levels of painkillers hydrocodone, oxycodone, and tramadol, as well as anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam and diazepam. Mays suffered from hip problems and was scheduled for hip replacement surgery the day after he was found dead.
Mays' funeral was held on July 3, 2009 in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. The pallbearers wore blue shirts
and khaki pants at the funeral, much like Mays wore when he advertised his products. He is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery. …
In the immediate aftermath of his death many companies pulled ads featuring Mays from the air. By mid-July,
with his family's consent, some ads were put back into rotation, alongside newer ones that Mays had filmed prior to his death
In Popular Culture ...
His catchphrase and infomercials made Billy Mays a notable icon in popular culture, with many shows, YouTube Videos, and films lampooning him. In the South Park episode "Dead Celebrities", Mays' ghost appears repeatedly to Ike Broflovski, trying to sell him products from the afterlife with his catchphrase "Hi, Billy Mays here with the...". Mays' son, Billy Mays III, a self-proclaimed South Park fan, said he loved "Dead Celebrities", and found its portrayal of his father to be both tasteful and respectful.
Mays was parodied in the Disney Channel series So Random, as a sales pitchman who annoys two children in a sketch, making them have spoiled lunch for school.
Mays was pitted against Benjamin Franklin in an episode of the YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History. He suddenly dies in the middle of the rap, leaving Vince Offer to finish it.
Mays was parodied as Willy Wizard advertising products for a company called "Flunco" on a Season 3 episode of Mad.