3 Billy Mays Facts Most People Don't Know

On June 28, 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 gravelly 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 20, 1958. After high school, he played football, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, and 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 working on the boardwalk, shilling a manual laundry cleaning device called the Washmatic.

He built his success over years

Success wasn't instant. By his recollection, Billy Mays spent 12 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 in 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. Other products he's promoted include Mighty Putty, the Awesome Auger, and Handy Switch. He even went on to appear in the Discovery Channel TV show "Pitchmen" (per IMDb), alongside fellow TV pitchman Anthony "Sully" Sullivan, as they searched for potential new products to promote.

[Featured image by Sharese Ann Frederick via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 2.0]

His pallbearers gave him an OxiClean sendoff

Billy Mays' death was sudden. On the morning of June 28, 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. "Mays died from a lethal arrhythmia of the heart caused by hypertensive and arteriosclerotic heart disease," the Hillsborough County medical examiner's office said in a statement, per CNN. "He [Dr. Leszek Chrostowski] further concluded that cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and therefore contributed to his death."

Before Mays was laid to rest, the legendary salesman was given a fitting sendoff. According to TMZ, the pallbearers who carried Mays' casket during his funeral were clad in blue OxiClean shirts and khakis, forever connecting him with one of the products that made him a household name. It's reasonable to wonder if Mays specified such a service himself, considering that he gave away hundreds of bottles of OxiClean as wedding favors when he got married (via The Associated Press, posted at The Gainesville Sun).

Mays was allegedly worth $10 million when he died

Billy Mays, with his attention-grabbing voice and slicked-back hair, along with occasional fellow pitchman Anthony Sullivan, helped plenty of companies sell more than $1 billion worth of products during his career (via the Los Angeles Times). But how much did he take home? Wealth estimation site Celebrity Net Worth ballparks Mays' bank account at $10 million in 2009 when he died. Mental Floss claims companies paid the ad man between $20,000 and $30,000 upfront, plus commission.

But Mays' real business legacy was in his Florida-based company Mays Promotions Inc., which cut deals with the makers of each product he sold. Even after his death, Mays' ghostly visage continued to pitch Mighty Tape and the Mighty Putty Super Pack to potential customers. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Mighty company even saw a spike in sales with Mays' passing. His business partner, Anthony Sullivan, even insisted that the late great "As Seen On TV" icon would obviously love to hawk goods from beyond the veil, saying, "Billy loved being on camera. ... He'd roll over in his grave if the ads were being pulled off the air."