Guy Adams: Overlooked death of a true legend of TV

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

It's been a busy couple of weeks for showbusiness funerals, what with the deaths of Michael Jackson and poor, overshadowed Farrah Fawcett. So amid the cascading public grief, the demise of a third highly-influential entertainment industry personality went woefully under-reported.

The late star's name is Billy Mays. He was known to millions of Americans as the greatest "pitchman" on TV, who fronted advertisements for such essential household items as Quick Chop, Mighty Putty, and the Grater Plater: a device that is cheese grater and plate... combined.

Shouty but lovable, with a terrier-like enthusiasm for his craft, Mays turned his gift for hawking the sort of tat you used to see in Innovations magazine into a vast business empire. At the time of his death, from a suspected heart attack, he'd personally flogged over a billion dollars' worth of products.

In a land of capitalists, obsessed by statistics, this figure makes Mays a national hero. Obituaries lauded him as a pop culture icon, and YouTube phenomenon. They also nostalgically recalled his shameless methods: as a guest on Conan O'Brien's TV show a few years back, Mays had revealed that guests at his wedding were given bottles of OxiClean, as going home presents.

Here in Los Angeles, Billy Mays also boasts a formidable legacy as a showbusiness pioneer. In a 30-year career, he honed the "direct response" advert, helped develop the "infomercial," and was central to the stratospheric of shopping telly, which for better or worse is now a staple of TV schedules.

So while Jackson stole the front pages, Mays deserves his place in the history books. When he was buried a few days ago, the pallbearers wore shirts with an OxiClean logo – a curiously fitting way to mark the death of this eternal salesman.

The art of Fawcett

Speaking of Farrah Fawcett, the bombshell actress turns out to have had a fine "eye" for art: according to her will, she built a collection of works by Andy Warhol, Dufy, Magritte and Chagall which is worth around $20m (£12.4m).

She financed the purchase of various masterpieces with her royalties from the iconic red swimsuit photograph which first catapulted her to fame – which surely amounts to one of the great cultural exchanges of modern times.

You didn't see me, right?

Spotted in the "family guests" row at Michael Jackson's memorial service: the controversial Nation of Islam preacher Louis Farrakhan. The man who many believe to be a dangerous extremist was strangely absent from the list of celebrity guests circulated by the event's organisers, and his presence therefore went virtually un-noticed. Funny, that.