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My meeting with Billy Mays: Facing down the voice that built a $1-billion business



BillyMAYS  Like everyone else with a television, I'd seen the commercials. So I knew he could get, um, excited.

But when I finally met superstar infomercial pitchman Billy Mays -- deep into a commercial shoot for Arm & Hammer baking soda in a spacious Gulfport home Tuesday -- I had no idea how impressive The Voice could be in person.

I'll have a more detailed piece on Mays and his partner Anthony Sullivan in a week or so, timed to preview the new Discovery Channel series based on these Tampa Bay-based guys' work, dubbed Pitchmen. But while hanging with Mays and "Sully" on Tuesday, I had my very own Maxell moment, as Mays parted what little hair I have left with a volcanic run-though his classic pitch for OxyClean.

Arm & Hammer has since bought up OxyClean, Kaboom and some other Mays/Sullivan products for more than $300-million -- turning a guy who used to hawk laundry products on the boardwalk in Atlantic City into a booming spokesman for a brand more than 150 years old.

While watching Mays plow through an amazingly tedious filming session, we talked about the mainstreaming of infomercials, his own meteoric success and his odd rivalry with the Sham Wow guy. Who has his own troubles now.

(photo by Scott Keeler, St. Petersburg Times)

To whet your appetite, here's a few samples of Mays unique vocal magic:

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:56pm]


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