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Direct Response Marketing

Industry Reacts To Death of Billy Mays

1 Jul, 2009 Response This Week


SANTA ANA, Calif. – In the days since the death of DRTV pitchman Billy Mays, a wide array of industry leaders and friends of Mays have either released general statements to the media or contacted Response directly to share their thoughts directly. Following is a complete set of thoughts received by the Response staff about Mays, who passed away at age 50 on June 28.

I had the opportunity to meet Billy about 10 years ago in the green room while waiting my turn to go on stage at HSN; we’ve been friends ever since. Knowing I was a newcomer to the DR industry, Billy was eager to lend me some valuable advice. There were plenty of attributes Billy had that inspired me — a branded name, face, voice and product line, on top of the fact that he was rapidly becoming a household name. The following year, I was voted “Best Male Presenter” in the fitness category by the ERA. Billy and I shared that award as he was voted “Best Male Presenter” in housewares. It was quite an honor to share such a prestigious award with an icon in our industry.

I am proud to admit that many of my accomplishments have been inspired by Billy’s success and our friendship. Surprisingly, I learned that I had an attribute Billy wanted — a washboard midsection. But, needless to say, I got more from Billy than what he got from me, as I don’t believe he ever got his washboard abs. But he sure liked to believe he could have his own six-pack one day!

Fond memories and humor aside, I’m deeply saddened by Billy’s sudden departure and wish to extend my dearest and deepest condolences to his family, friends and associates. I want to thank Billy for being Billy. He always treated me like his little brother, and because of his influence, he’s made me a much better person. For that, I’m truly grateful.

— John Abdo

Billy Mays defined the As-Seen-on-TV industry. With his distinctive black beard and booming voice, he was the face of so many of the most recognizable brands — OxiClean, Kaboom!, Orange Glo and iCan Benefit — but his biggest contribution to the industry was his effort to show marketers that As-Seen-on-TV advertising is an effective genre for a number of products, not just gadgets and gizmos.

We are going to miss him very much. He is leaving us at the height of our industry. Billy was one of the most effective pitchmen in history, not just for the products that he represented, but also for the direct response advertising industry itself. We will see more As-Seen-on-TV stars, but Billy was the undisputed Infomercial King.

— Mark Biglow, Mercury Media

Our industry will never be the same. We always say we would like this sort of talent or that type of talent. But, truly, there was only one Billy Mays. He was a self-made man and earned our respect. Billy was so kind to everyone, no matter whether the person was a grip or top of the ladder. Even after days of shooting, he was still smiling and cracking jokes and committed to getting the pitch right. He loved being on camera, but he really just lit up when he talked about his family. Our hearts go out to them.

— Karla Crawford Kerr, Hawthorne Direct


Billy’s generosity, love and friendship for everyone he came into contact with will live on in our memories and thoughts forever. His sudden and untimely death leaves a void in the hearts of all he touched, but his legacy will continue in perpetuity.

Billy legitimized the industry and brought us all together in a way no one else could, with his honest, but vivacious, and larger than life personality.

A shoot will never be the same. You will be sorely missed.

— Nancy Duitch, Vertical Branding


While a partner at CRTV, I was truly blessed to be approached by Joel and Max Appel to produce their first OxiClean infomercial. During this project, I became friends with Billy, even negotiating the first production contract between him and the Appels. He trusted me, and I believed in him. He wasn’t so confident on that first shoot, but when we jammed the “Billy Cam” in his face he came alive. That was his element.

Everything about Billy was energy, fun, laughter and warmth. He loved a lot — his family, his friends, his job. I went on to direct and produce Billy in a dozen or so more projects, but our friendship outside the set grew as well, and when I went through my transition from CRTV, he was right there willing to do whatever it took to help me out. Every encounter with Billy left me feeling the care of a true friend. He had that effect on people. He just loved with his whole heart.

I’m very sad about him being gone. I’m going to miss him, but I’m going to try to honor him by remembering his open heart. He was a good, good man.

— Sean Fay, Envision Response

We are shocked and saddened by the untimely passing of Billy Mays, who served as OxiClean spokesperson for more than a decade, and who deserves much of the credit for making OxiClean a household name.

Billy was the best of the pitchman genre that he pioneered. His enthusiasm for life was infectious, and he will be sorely missed by the Arm & Hammer family and all who knew him. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

— Bruce Fleming, Church & Dwight Co. Inc.

While I will never forget Billy’s obvious pride in his work, his passion for our business, or his unyielding integrity, I will, above all, remember Billy as a supportive friend, caring husband, and doting father. Even with his hectic schedule and growing public recognition, Billy made time to ask the simple questions such as, “How are you?” and “What can I do to help?”

When we last spoke on the phone, as he was making his way to the Conan O’Brien show, it was no different. I was excited for his appearance and wanting to wish him well on his upcoming surgery. But Billy would have none of it; he just wanted to make sure we’d be working together to support “Pitchmen” and the three new shows he had literally just finished. Then, Billy being Billy, he made me promise to watch the show. It goes without saying that I wouldn’t have missed it.

In the past month or so, I also had the privilege of spending time with Billy and his wife, Deborah, and their daughter, Elizabeth, in San Diego. While Billy was a larger-than-life presence for many of us, it was amazing — and humbling — to see him as “Daddy” in the eyes of his little girl. At dinner, he was sure the waitress knew what she liked to eat, and during our private tour of Sea World, you could see the thrill in his eyes as Elizabeth got the chance to meet Shamu.

I feel very honored to have shared private and public moments with Billy and his family, and I will miss him terribly.

— Sam Gorewitz, Ignite Media Solutions


I met Billy Mays in 1987 at the Philadelphia Home Show, when he was with Ruby Morris and National Kitchen Products. Shortly thereafter, we did an infomercial with Billy called The Washmatic Car Washing System. At the time, I said, “Wow Billy can really pitch!”

The funny thing is, when I watch that show today, Billy really appears timid, shy and skinny compared to recent years. Twenty-two years later, we recently finished the Dual Saw show with Billy. It’s sad to think that there will be no more shows with Billy.

— Kevin Harrington, TV Goods

Our industry has suffered a devastating loss with Billy’s passing. The smiling, bearded, blue-shirt, khaki-slacks ambassador of DRTV was kind, patient, open and genuinely focused on his clients’ success. We’ll miss his ever-present “Billy Mays here for [insert product name].” Billy Mays was here for all of us … and we’ll miss him dearly.

He was everywhere. There didn’t seem to be a product he couldn’t pitch. He was quiet, modest, a great listener when not in “on” mode. Then, when hearing “action,” he became the best living pitchman. He understood what people wanted, understood how to connect, and could come up with a catch phrase that lasted. But most importantly, he cared. You could tell he had a big heart filled with love for all those around him. Never posing, never copping an attitude, just a regular guy with an amazing gift.

— Tim Hawthorne, Hawthorne Direct

I only met him a handful of times in the past couple years. When I thanked him for selling so many Handy Switches (as we shipped them all), he thanked me for getting the orders out. He said that our role in the process was as important as his and appreciated what we did for his success. He was extremely approachable, humble and nice to a complete stranger.

— Kristofer Johnson, GSI Commerce

I am in a state of disbelief. Billy Mays was always a terrific and unique individual, both personally and professionally. He was a wonderful human being and a true family man.

I first met Billy in the early 1990s when he was still pitching one of his early products, the Shammy, at a trade fair at a housewares show. Over the years, our relationship grew as Billy’s distinctive voice and style became a staple in our industry.

More recently, I had worked hand-in-hand with Billy and Anthony “Sully” Sullivan on the Discovery Channel show, “Pitchmen.” His innovative role and impact on the growth and wide acceptance of direct response television cannot be overestimated or easily replaced; he was truly one of a kind.

On this very sad day, the thoughts and prayers of my wife Poonam and I go out to Billy’s wife and family. He was a man passionate about his family, the products he so successfully pitched, and the industry that was so dear to his heart — and he will be sorely missed.

— AJ Khubani, TELEBrands

I am deeply saddened by this shocking news. I’ve worked with Billy for 10 great years, and he will be missed. His positive outlook on life, his talent and unique personality will never be replaced.

— Nancy Lazkani, Icon Media Direct

Billy Mays was a giant in our industry. He starred in what we call "short-form" infomercials — one- or two-minute programs, in contrast to the half-hour format. Billy made a huge impact in these spots — the mark of an ultimate salesman.

But, to me, it was how Billy lived his life that was most important — how he loved his family, how he worked so hard to achieve his tremendous success. In selling, you have to sell yourself first, and Billy did that incredibly well. Of course, people can sense the real thing, and his fans knew that Billy stood behind everything he sold. In this way, Billy was more than the ultimate salesman — he was a powerfully positive force in our industry, an awesome and larger-than-life ambassador.

It was only one week ago when I sat beside him on a two-and-a-half hour flight to New York, where we discussed a whole range of subjects about business and life. During that time, I grew even fonder of him, but I couldn’t imagine that would be the last time I would have with him. He will be missed tremendously by all who knew him, who worked with him and, of course, who loved him.

— Tony Little

After having the pleasure of working with Billy for more than 10 years, I speak for all of my associates when I say that we are devastated by the tragic and unexpected news of his passing.

Billy worked with determination over the years to develop as the supreme voice of the infomercial industry. It is his persona against which all pitchmen will be measured now and in the future.

Billy’s ability to get people excited about a product was merely an extension of the engaging, likeable and earnest person he was off the set. Although he will be greatly missed by the industry he helped to popularize, his loss will be felt most by those who had the distinct pleasure of knowing him personally. Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife Deborah and family.

— Bill McAlister, Media Enterprises

Last year, I flew one of my daughters in for the ERA awards show so she could see what her dad does, and Billy and Sully were so great posing with her. She has a photo up in her bedroom inscribed, “Clean Your Room! Billy Mays.” He was extremely generous, and for all of his success, was just a really solid and good-humored, down-to-earth guy.

I’ll say this for him: Billy went out on top. Few in this world do.

— Rick Petry

Billy Mays was the real deal; a bona-fide great guy. We first met many years ago when I was the greenest of newbies. In a business where our stock is far too often judged by what we can do for someone, Billy — to the contrary — treated me as if I were the most important person in the room. With that 1000-watt smile and his generous good fellowship, he made me feel like a million bucks.

— Rus Sarnoff, Integrated Marketing

There are no words to describe how I feel about the passing of my great friend and fellow pitchman Billy Mays. I have a massive hole in my heart. My thoughts go out to his wife, Deborah, son Billy III, and his beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, his mom and dad and his whole family.

 Billy and I have known each other for 15 years. We are the greatest of friends. He was the best at what he did — his uncompromising style coupled with his black beard, blue shirt and khaki pants will be embedded in my memory for all time. His uniqueness created an industry that I am proud to be a part of. We were literally joined at the hip for the past six months.

 Discovery Channel’s “Pitchmen” was not only a wonderful experience, but also a great opportunity for Billy and I to let people into our world and see what an awesome guy he was in front of the cameras and show our friendship to the world.

 There was a lot more to Billy as a person than “Billy the Pitchman.” He was a loving, caring family man with the heart and roar of a lion. He loved what he did and loved his fans. The overwhelming outpouring of support shows what an amazing individual Billy was.

 I’m proud to have had him as a friend. I’ll miss him greatly and I’ll miss hearing him saying, “Hi Billy Mays here ... Here’s how to order!”

— Anthony Sullivan


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