Billy Mays

Billy Mays knew how to sell. He was the consummate pitchman, rising from boardwalks to state fairs to short-form direct-response ads. By the time he died of heart disease on June 28 at 50, he was on television more than 400 times a week. To an aspiring inventor or an entrepreneur, his oratory was the difference between a pipe dream and a blockbuster.

With his trademark beard and booming voice, Billy conquered the challenge of selling more than a product to the consumer. Billy sold Billy. Many of his wares had been around in some form for 50 years, but Billy...

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