Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fifty becomes the new 90

The cultural icon of our era is dead at 50.

Millions of fans adored his facial features and bellowing delivery helped make millions of dollars. People of all colors and creeds hung on his every word at his rare public appearances. He nurtured an aura of trust and understanding that rang true in a cynical world.

Michael Jackson? Nope. I'm talking about Billy Mays.

Mays, the ubiquitous product huckster who was the star of numerous television product infomercials, died recently of issues apparently related to his heart. His signature beard, which appeared almost spray-painted and chiseled, combined with a carnival-barker voice to move products that none of us ever thought we needed. But he had that sincerity and eye-twinkle irresistible to the buying public.

Never since Paul Popiel -- "It slices, it dices and makes mounds and mounds of cole slaw" -- has there been a better spokesperson for the sprays, pans, hoses, hoes, brooms, kitchen gadgets, and tens of other products produced by anonymous makers. Mays was worth every penny they spent for his services and delivery, honed hawking goods on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

A couple of months ago, Fortune magazine had a profile on Mays. Fortune interviewed Mays as he spun around Tampa in his Bentley...thrilled with his unexpected success but humble enough not to wallow in it or get taken up in it or in his success.

It's a certain contrast with the single-gloved one. But neither needed to check out at 50.

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