Published July 03, 2009
Television pitchman Billy Mays, whose high-energy hawking turned products like OxiClean from infomercial curiosities into mainstream successes, was remembered as a pop culture icon at his funeral Friday near Pittsburgh.
"He sold more OxiClean than Andy Warhol sold Campbell's Soup," said Mays' cousin Dean Panizzi, comparing Mays to the Pittsburgh-born pop artist who turned the soup can into a work of art.
Scores of mourners came to the tiny suburb of McKees Rocks, where Mays was raised, to remember the popular pitchman. Mays developed his style demonstrating knives, mops and other "As Seen on TV" gadgets on Atlantic City's boardwalk and worked for years as a hired gun on the state fair and home show circuits, attracting crowds with his booming voice and genial manner.
Mays got his start on TV on the Home Shopping Network and then branched out into commercials and infomercials. He developed such a strong following that he became the subject of a reality TV series, Discovery Channel's "Pitchmen."
"Pitchmen" creator and executive producer Chris Wilson said the outsized personality that earned Mays a place in the pop culture lexicon was paired with an innate ability to reach viewers.
"Billy had an amazing way of just making you believe that everything he said was true," Wilson said Friday. "He didn't sell you, he told you."
The likable personality Mays presented on TV viewers existed in real life, too, Wilson said.
"As great as a pitch man Billy was, he was an even better man and an even better individual," he said.
Outside the funeral, a company owned by fellow "Pitchmen" star Anthony Sullivan handed out shiny stickers bearing a caricature of Mays' face.
Mays hawked everything from the Wash-matik, a device for pumping water from a bucket to wash cars, to Orange Glo, an environmentally friendly cleaner. Sporting a jet-black beard and coupling high-energy demonstrations with booming pitches, Mays always seemed ready to jump off the screen.
Mays is believed to have died of a heart attack in his sleep, but further tests are needed to be sure of the cause of death.