And, in looking at the media yesterday and this morning, Billy Mays is seemingly but a hiccup in the news which has been dominated by the demise of Michael Jackson.
It seems as though every celebrity has weighed in on Michael Jackson from Elizabeth Taylor to Diana Ross to lesser luminaries. Rev. Jesse Jackson and his congressman son visited and I saw a report that today Rev. Al Sharpton was visiting too.
But little has been noted about Billy Mays other than that he was a professional huckster and family man in Tampa, FL.
I don’t know why this bothers me but it does. Michael Jackson was famous starting in the 70’s and got huge in the 80’s and then spiraled downward over the last decade with bizarre behavior and criminal legal issues. He appealed to the voyeur in us, our curiosity and occasional revulsion. He was viewed remotely and vicariously as someone larger than life, unapproachable and mysterious somewhat akin to Howard Hughes during his declining years.
What Carolyn and I were talking about though was that for some reason we were more bummed about Billy Mays than Michael or Farrah or Ed McMahon. Maybe it has something to do with the idea that Billy Mays was someone we saw on TV every single day making a pitch at us. We came up with the idea that he always seemed approachable more like a real person with a real life.
He was someone more like us. But someone who had achieved celebrity. Celebrity in a “knife demonstration at the County Fair kind of way, but celebrity just the same. In other words, we liked him—in the way you like your next door neighbor or the guy who sits behind you at your kid’s basketball game.
But the world wants to go “boo-hoo” over Michael Jackson. Fifty million copies of “Thriller” were bought a number that record industry experts suggest will never be eclipsed or approached largely because of changes in how music is purchased (i.e. i-Tunes).
But Billy Mays did exactly what he claimed to do. He sold stuff that people need, which will make their lives just a bit easier. Like OxiClean or Quik Chop or What Odor, all kinds of thing. He did it in a style that was loud and brash while at the same time being friendly and direct with just a bit of “tongue in cheek” suggesting that neither he nor you should take all this too seriously. I would imagine that the airwaves will be just a bit quieter for a while as companies and products come up with new spots to sell their products. (Hire ME! I’m looking for work!)
So that’s it. Hopefully this week will be a better one for celebrities some of whom may have already started to look over their shoulders after last week’s surprising roll call. MJ was in a sense a pitiable figure hoping for a comeback. But Mays was a real guy with a twinkle in his eye and perhaps just a touch of larceny thrown in to boot. They’ll both be missed.