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Autopsy finds that TV pitchman Billy Mays had used cocaine, which contributed to his fatal heart condition

In the past year of his life, Billy Mays’ booming voice blasted through ads for products such as Arm & Hammer and ESPN360.com.

SCOTT KEELER | Times files (2009)

In the past year of his life, Billy Mays’ booming voice blasted through ads for products such as Arm & Hammer and ESPN360.com.

TAMPA — Heart disease, exacerbated by cocaine use, killed celebrated TV pitchman Billy Mays, according to the Hillsborough County medical examiner's final autopsy report released Friday.

Dr. Leszek Chrostowski noted that the 50-year-old had a pattern of heart problems in his family, but the medical examiner also lists cocaine use as a contributing factor in his death.

"Mr. Mays died form a lethal arrhythmia of the heart caused by hypertensive and arteriosclerotic heart disease,'' a Hillsborough County news release said, adding that cocaine use "caused or contributed to'' the development of the heart ailment.

Mays' widow, Deborah Mays, immediately released a written statement Friday expressing her family's disappointment with Chrostowski's findings and the accompanying news release from the county.

"We were totally unaware of any nonprescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results," she said.

The family called the cocaine abuse charge a "speculative conclusion" and said it distracts from Mays' ultimate cause of death — untreated hypertension.

Mays was found dead in his Tampa condo June 28 by his wife, and the autopsy was performed the next day. Final results had been awaiting a toxicology report.

Tests revealed Mays had taken cocaine in the days before his death. He was also taking hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol by prescription for hip pain. He was preparing to have his third hip surgery in 18 months and took medication for the chronic pain, Deborah Mays' news release said.

"Cocaine can raise the arterial blood pressure, directly cause thickening of the wall of the left ventricle of the heart, and accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries," county officials said.

However, Mays was not intoxicated by any of the drugs when he died in his home, according to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner.

Born William D. Mays in McKees Rocks, Pa., on July 20, 1958, he began selling products in 1983 as a boardwalk barker in Atlantic City, N.J.

Mays joined St. Petersburg's Home Shopping Network in 1996 to pitch Orange Glo wood cleaner and moved onto his star-making performance in OxiClean commercials in 2000.

In the past year of his life, his booming voice blasted through ads for products such as Arm & Hammer and ESPN360.com. He also starred in a reality TV show titled "Pitchmen."

Deborah Mays said he also battled with chronic pain.

"His use of prescription pain medication for his hip condition was guided by his physician and was at recommended usage levels,'' she said.

Mays' chronic, untreated high blood pressure was a lesson in the need to regularly monitor one's health, she said.

"Given the hectic nature and pace of Billy's life, especially during the past 10 months of his exhaustive travel across the country, it was not surprising to hear that hypertension was the cause of his death," she said.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Autopsy finds that TV pitchman Billy Mays had used cocaine, which contributed to his fatal heart condition 08/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 11:18pm]
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