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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Billy Mays tribute July 9 on Discovery; his commercials return next week

Billymays2 When the world's most visible pitchman dies at the height of his fame, it's the obvious, yet painful question: What to do with all the commercials?

Billy Mays' unexpected death Sunday made that question a serious issue for the direct-response marketing industry's top names. Mays was so successful and widely used -- one tracking firm said he has up to 15 different commercials airing on TV stations across the country at the moment -- that his passing could affect the fate of companies worth many millions of dollars.

According to Bill McAlister, owner of the company that makes Mighty Putty and Mighty Mendit household adhesives, more than a dozen marketers who had commercials featuring Mays got together on a conference call organized by his partner Anthony Sullivan Tuesday to discuss the issue,  joined by an attorney representing the pitchman's wife and his adult son. McAlister said the group decided to resume airing his commercials next week, after Mays' funeral and burial near Pittsburgh.

The Discovery Channel has scheduled a full-length tribute to Mays at 9 p.m. July 9, but they also made note of his death during the final episode of the series he and Sullivan filmed for the channel, Pitchmen. Brief memorial messages played leading into and out of commercial breaks during the show, and the last 10 minutes or so served as a short, powerful memorial to the 50-year-old sales dynamo.

Billy_mays_pitchmen Most of the show was a surprisingly satisfying wrap-up to the season, featuring Sullivan and Mays facing off in a battle of pitches at a Philadelphia home show. Sparked by a challenge during a radio appearance, the two agree to pitch different products at different booths in a sprawling home show; but Sullivan finds a couple of friends to throw on disguises and disrupt Mays' patter.

Despite the disruption, Mays still earned about 30 percent more money than Sullivan; later segments highlighted how many inventors featured in the series saw their products rack up millions in sales behind Mays' spirited commercial spots.

Mays' son Billy Mays III is also providing regular updates on his activities through his Twitter page while preparing for the tributes to his father and struggling with grief. "Watched the finale surrounded by cousins and friends," he messaged last night. "About two minutes of silence after the tribute at the end..."

Indeed, the show's final minutes may have been the most fitting tribute possible: showing the impact the world's best-known pitchman had on so many lives before the passing of his own.

   Here's a clip from the finale: *

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:59pm]

    

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