Today's cuppa: cup of sadness

BillyMays 6-28-2009 9-01-12 AM Of all the celebrity deaths in recent days, I feel this one, announced this morning, the most, since I both recently met and interviewed infomercial and "Pitchmen" star Billy Mays, who was 50.

More to come on this post in a few minutes, but for now, here is the statement from Discovery Channel, which premiered "Pitchmen" earlier this year.

It is with incredible sadness that we have to

report that Billy Mays died in his sleep last night. Everyone that knows him was

aware of his larger-than-life personality, generosity and warmth. Billy was a

pioneer in his field and helped many people fulfill their dreams.  He will be

greatly missed as a loyal and compassionate friend. Our deepest sympathies go

out to his family at this time of incredible loss. More information will be

distributed as it becomes available.

Stay tuned…

UPDATE: While waiting for further details, here's a bit more with Mays…

First up, click here for a video of his and "Pitchmen" and business partner Anthony Sullivan's appearance last Monday on the "Tonight" show with Conan O'Brien.

Also, I'd like to share a bit of what I talked about with Mays. First up, here's a syndicated Q&A we did, which came out the week of June 14, in conjunction with "Pitchmen"…

Q: Your

“Pitchmen” cohort and business partner, Anthony Sullivan, recently said of you,

“He’s a very different person in real life, very quiet and mild-mannered. The

minute you put the camera on him, he just dials up to 11.”

A: Yeah, well, what’s he up to? Why is he saying

nice things about me? I’m actually a little different than I am on-camera, kind

of the opposite.

Q: How did you learn to become a pitchman?

A: I developed that way back when I

trained on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. I was

taught by some of the best pitchmen you’ll never know. They gave me secrets to

get me where I am today. They would show me how to build a crowd, get ’em  in, get ’em close, how to ask for the money.

These are the fundamentals of Pitching 101. They really helped me develop my

hand gestures, my presence onstage.

 Q: What’s the

difference between a pitchman and a salesman?

A: I pitch strong; I pitch hard; I cut

through all the clutter. There’s not a lot of fluff when you get me. I project

the voice. I really go after that demonstrable product, those products that

have mass appeal. I answer your questions. Salesmen do that in a different way.

I started out as a salesman. I think the pitch is that presence you command;

how you ask for the money; how you build up the offer. That constitutes a


Mays was also a firm believer in capitalism and the American Dream, as evidenced in "Pitchmen" by how he and Sullivan work with inventors who have invested their lives, and often their life savings, in bringing the products of their imagination into reality and realizing a profit from their hard work…

Said Mays, "I think Sully would agree with this — there's no European Dream. If you think about it, there is the American Dream, and the American dream is alive and well, and it is represented on our show on Discovery, how we tell the story of the inventor, how much they've got on the line, how much is at stake.

"They've got everything at risk. From every great recession, from every Great Depression, comes great innovation. If you think back, there are a couple of companies that stood out in the tough times when they were born — Google, Microsoft, Apple. In their garages, they formed Apple.

"The product is king."

UPDATE: TMZ is reporting an incident during a flight Mays was on the night before he died. Don't know yet if there's a connection but can't totally dismiss the possibility until more information is in.

UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: Now, Twitter news service @BreakingNews is reporting — "FAA

spokeswoman tells BNO News that incorrectly quoted her, says

she never said Bill Mays was not wearing seat belt during landing." Yeah, it's going to be a little while until all this is sorted out.

UPDATE ON THE UPDATED UPDATE: Click here for an AP story that pretty much sums up all we know so far, from Mays' home newspaper in Tampa Bay, Fla.

(all the updates above were added on Sunday, June 28)

FINAL UPDATE, MONDAY MORNING, JUNE 29: Also from the Tampa Bay newspaper, click here for the preliminary autopsy reports, which indicate heart trouble rather than any head trauma as the likely cause of death.

Posted by:Kate O'Hare