Monday, June 29, 2009

Billy Mays, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

We often hear it said of something that "this is something that could happen only in America." Which, I think, is why we note the passing of Billy Mays on Sunday.

Billy Mays was a quintessentially American phenomenon. Where else could a commercial pitchman become a national figure, someone recognized and liked around the country, every bit as well-known - if not more so - than the products he advertised? Thanks to Mays, entrepreneurs had a chance to prove that hard work and persistence could pay off, that if you invent a better mousetrap (and advertise it through infomercials), the world really will beat a path to your door. Could there be anything more representative of how capitalism is supposed to work?

He wasn't for everyone, and I don't think it was until he started the commercials for that I really figured out it was just an act. Billy Mays didn't want you to take him seriously, but he did want you to believe in the products he advertised, because he believed in them. I don't think he would have risked his reputation otherwise.

We got a look at the man behind the pitchman this season during the Discovery Channel series Pitchmen, in which he co-starred with Anthony Sullivan. It was a charming, humorous, and ultimately insightful series that featured a lot of people willing to stake everything they had, and then some, on their belief in a dream - that they could invent a product that would fulfill a need, that would make life just a little bit better for people. Again, that's a sentiment that speaks to the very fiber of America - the idea that this was a land of opportunity, one in which everyone had a chance for success.

I liked that about Billy Mays, and perhaps the obvious sincerity with which he went about his work was part of it. We often hear about how Ronald Reagan was a "happy warrior," but then so was Billy Mays. Perhaps in a different way than Reagan, but a way that was no less American.

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