Monday, June 29, 2009

Celebrity Deaths

It's been a weird week with so many celebrities from my childhood and youth dying. First Ed McMahon, then Farah Fawcett, then Michael Jackson. But, oddly enough, it was yesterday's announcement of Billy Mays' death that bothers me most.

My family never watched the Tonight Show much, so, although I knew who McMahon was, I'd never spent much time watching his show. And Charlie's Angels came on while I was at church (and never really appealed to me as a kid, anyway), so I didn't watch Farah in action, either. Well, except that every girl in school wanted that Farah Fawcett hairstyle. As for Michael Jackson, I liked his music and grew up with him, but self-mutilation and pedophilia overshadowed any musical talent that man had.

Billy Mays, on the other hand, had none of the problems of the other three. He wasn't a guy I spent enormous thought power on for years. I had seen his ubiquitous commercials over the years, but didn't even know who he was until I started watching Pitchmen earlier this year.

The show was fascinating to me because I, like a lot of people, I suppose, had often wondered how some of those weird products ended up on television. Pitchmen followed Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their marketing jobs, trying to find the next great "As Seen on TV" product. From cupholder GPS units to cracked heel healers to mop shoes, Pitchmen watched the pros determine which products to promote and guide to television success. I was often surprised at the care and attention the TV guys showed for ordinary people, even if the product invented was a stinker.

But the most poignant--if that's the right word--episode was one recently aired where Mays brought his son, his (new) wife and his (very young) daughter to the set to film a commercial for insurance. There, Mays discussed his regrets that he hadn't been home more and that he was trying to do better this time around. As much heat as Mays took for being loud and obnoxious, it was a very human side to see. Most of us, particularly if we're on second (or more!) marriages, have regrets and doubts about the life we've led, wishing we'd done things differently or could have avoided costly mistakes. To see a guy that usually doesn't seem to look backward reflecting, sometimes ruefully, on his life, was a touching moment.

And I suppose that's why the death of OxyClean's spokesman bothers me a bit more than other celebrity deaths. We'd finally gotten to see the human side of that loud guy off the TV.

UPDATE: Via Jules Crittenden, here's the video of Billy Mays selling Obama's stimulus plan.