- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) | Billy Mays, the burly, bearded television pitchman whose boisterous hawking of products such as Orange Glo and OxiClean made him a pop-culture icon, has died. He was 50.

Tampa police said Mr. Mays’ wife found him unresponsive Sunday morning. A fire rescue crew pronounced him dead at 7:45 a.m. It was not clear how he died. However, he said he was hit on the head during a rough airplane landing on Saturday, and Deborah Mays told investigators that her husband didn’t feel well before he went to bed at about 10 p.m.

There were no signs of a break-in at the home and investigators do not suspect foul play, said Lt. Brian Dugan of the Tampa Police Department, who wouldn’t answer questions about how Mr. Mays’ body was found, because of the ongoing investigation. The coroner’s office expects to have an autopsy done by Monday afternoon.

“Although Billy lived a public life, we don’t anticipate making any public statements over the next couple of days,” Mrs. Mays said in a statement Sunday. “Our family asks that you respect our privacy during these difficult times.”

US Airways confirmed that Mr. Mays was on a flight that made a rough landing on Saturday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, leaving debris on the runway after apparently blowing its front tires.

Tampa Bay’s Fox television affiliate interviewed Mr. Mays afterward.

“All of a sudden as we hit, you know, it was just the hardest hit, all the things from the ceiling started dropping,” MyFox Tampa Bay quoted him as saying. “It hit me on the head, but I got a hard head.”

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said linking Mr. Mays’ death to the landing would “purely be speculation.” She said Mr. Mays’ family members didn’t report any health problems with the pitchman but said he was due to have hip replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

US Airways spokesman Jim Olson said there were no reports of serious injury due to the landing.

“If local authorities have any questions for us about yesterday’s flight, we’ll cooperate fully with them,” he said.

Born William Mays in McKees Rocks, Pa., on July 20, 1958, Mr. Mays developed his style demonstrating knives, mops and “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.

A.J. Khubani, founder and chief executive officer of “As Seen on TV,” said he first met Mr. Mays in the early 1990s when he was pitching one of his early products, the Shammy absorbent cloth, at a trade fair. He said he most recently worked with him on the reality TV show “Pitchmen” on the Discovery Channel, which follows Mr. Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their marketing jobs.

“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,” Mr. Khubani said in a statement.

After meeting Orange Glo International founder Max Appel at a home show in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, Mr. Mays was recruited to demonstrate the environmentally friendly line of cleaning products on the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Home Shopping Network.

Commercials and infomercials followed, anchored by the high-energy Mr. Mays showing how it’s done while tossing out kitschy phrases like, “Long live your laundry!”

His ubiquitousness and thumbs-up, in-your-face pitches won Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

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