The Untold Truth Of Billy Mays

On June 28th 2009, insomnia lost its appeal. Staring slack-jawed at a television screen as the sun reclaimed the prideland in the early morning hours just didn't have the joyful undertones that it used to. The stars were dulled. Billy Mays was gone.

For years, basic cable enthusiasts and the unemployed alike were soothed by the gravely tones of one William Darrell Mays Jr, the acclaimed TV pitchman who promised a generation that they could make a boat out of a screen door with the right aerosol can. He came to us by way of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, where he was born on July 20th, 1958. He attended West Virginia University for two years before dropping out.

Not long after that, Mays moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, that's where the pitch man found his calling: out of work, he started shilling a manual laundry cleaning device called the Washmatic on the boardwalk.

Billy Mays here, and there, and over there

Success wasn't instant. By his recollection, Mays spent twelve years traveling the country, selling whatever needed to be sold, barking at state fairs and home and auto shows.

At one such show, Mays was positioned across the aisle from Orange Glo founder Max Appel. When Appel's mic went out, Mays loaned him an extra, and the two struck up a friendship that landed Mays a job selling citrus-scented cleaning products.

That was 1993. Over the next 16 years, Billy Mays built a career around high-energy salesmanship, convincing the public that what they really needed was Kaboom cleaner, or Flex Tape, or one of literally dozens of other products available for a special, low price, plus shipping.

On the morning of June 28th, 2009, Mays' wife found him unresponsive in the couple's Tampa Bay home. There was speculation that the 50 year old's untimely demise came as the result of a head injury he'd suffered during a rough airplane landing, but as NPR reported, it was actually due to heart failure, with frequent cocaine use listed in the report as a contributing factor.