Published June 29, 2009
A frantic woman tells emergency operators she found television pitchman Billy Mays cold and unresponsive on 911 tapes released by authorities in Florida
The boisterous, bearded Mays was known for pitching cleaning products and gadgets in commercials that aired nationwide. The 50-year-old was found dead by his wife Sunday morning, most likely as a result of heart disease.
On emergency tapes released Monday, a woman says she found Mays cold to the touch after waking up. The caller, who isn't identified, says his lips are purple and that he isn't breathing.
When asked what had happened, she says she doesn't know.
A second person who got on the phone tells the operator that Mays is dead.
Initial autopsy results suggest he suffered from hypertensive heart disease, and the wall of the left ventricle of Mays' heart and the wall of one of his arteries were enlarged.
Hillsborough County Medical Center Dr. Vernard Adams said in a press conference Monday that the autopsy revealed no evidence of any external or internal head trauma, correcting early reports that Mays may have suffered an ultimately fatal wound to the head during a rough plane landing Saturday.
"The heart disease is perfectly consistent with sudden death," Adams said.
An official cause of death will be issued after toxicology and other tests are completed in eight to 10 weeks.
"While it provides some closure to learn that heart disease took Billy from us, it certainly doesn't ease the enormous void that his death has created in our lives," his wife, Deborah, said in a statement. "As you can imagine, we are all devastated."
Adams said Mays was taking the prescription painkillers Tramadol and hydrocodone for hip pain, but there was no indication of drug abuse. Mays had planned to have hip-replacement surgery Monday.
Mays told his wife he didn't feel well when he went to bed sometime after 10 p.m. Saturday. Earlier in the day, he said he was hit on the head when his flight from Philadelphia had a rough landing at Tampa International Airport. The airline said no passengers reported serious injuries.
Adams said the autopsy showed no evidence of head trauma.
In a 911 tape released Monday, a frantic woman tells emergency operators she found Mays cold and unresponsive. The woman isn't identified, but police have said Deborah Mays found her husband dead.
When asked what had happened, the caller says she doesn't know.
A second person got on the phone as the operator encourages them to get Mays on the floor to start CPR.
"We can't get him up, ma'am," the woman says. "He's gone."
Born William Mays in McKees Rocks, Pa., on July 20, 1958, Mays developed his style demonstrating knives, mops and other "As Seen on TV" gadgets on Atlantic City's boardwalk. For years he worked as a hired gun on the state fair and home show circuits, attracting crowds with his booming voice and genial manner.
After meeting Orange Glo International founder Max Appel at a home show in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, Mays was recruited to demonstrate the environmentally friendly line of cleaning products on the St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network, now known as HSN.
Commercials and informercials followed, anchored by the high-energy Mays using them while tossing out kitschy phrases like, "Long live your laundry!"
HSN released a statement Monday morning, praising Mays as a "legend in the electronic retail history whose personality, entrepreneurial spirit and thoughtfulness for others have always been larger than life."
His ubiquitousness and thumbs-up, in-your-face pitches won Mays plenty of fans for his commercials on a wide variety of products. People lined up at his personal appearances for autographed color glossies, and strangers stopped him in airports to chat about the products.
"I enjoy what I do," Mays told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. "I think it shows."
Mays liked to tell the story of giving bottles of OxiClean to the 300 guests at his wedding, and doing his ad spiel ("powered by the air we breathe!") on the dance floor at the reception. Visitors to his house typically got bottles of cleaner and housekeeping tips.
Besides his wife, Mays is survived by a 3-year-old daughter and a stepson in his 20s, police said.