Saturday, August 8, 2009

Checkout lines: A celebrity exit update

Billy Mays

Maybe now we know why he talked so fast, so loud, so nonstop: Florida authorities on Friday released the official autopsy report regarding the death of Billy Mays, once the ubiquitous, over-the-top king of infomercials. In a press release, The Hillsborough County medical examiner's office "concluded that cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and thereby contributed to his death.”

Mays died June 28 in his sleep at his Tampa condo.

Toxicology tests also found the presence of painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone and tramadol, and the anti-anxiety meds alprazolam and diazepam — all apparently within limits of use consistent with someone who’d been legitimately prescribed these medications.

Understandably, the Mays family takes issue with the findings. “We were totally unaware of any non-prescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results,” the family said in a statement.

The family cited the report for “speculative conclusions that are frankly unnecessary and tend to obscure the conclusion that Billy suffered from chronic, untreated hypertension, which only demonstrates how important it is to regularly monitor one's health.”

Meanwhile, ads with Mays’ boisterous presence have been on TV as recently as last week. And more are still to come: Hawking products from the Jupiter Jack, a wireless speakerphone, to Mighty Putty adhesive, Mays will soon be seen in commercials shot just before he died, and in repeat ads: commercials that will return him to the airwaves to hawk the products that made him famous in the first place.

Death, where is thy sting?

The Taco Bell Chihuahua

So much was happening about two weeks ago: the escalation of the health-care battle on Capitol Hill; the fallout from Mark Sanford’s escapades down Argentina way; the teachable/learnable moment of the Henry Louis Gates incident. It was possible to lose sight of the really important stuff:

The world of entertainment was stunned on July 22 to learn that the Taco Bell Chihuahua had died, of a stroke, at the age of 15 (approximately 105 human years, give or take).

The dog, whose real name was Gidget, became the spokesdog for the Taco Bell fast-food franchise in 1997, and quickly staked a claim to being the top canine of all media, with merchandising deals, frequent TV appearances, and residuals that kept Gidget in dog biscuits all her life. She lived quietly after her brush with fame, in a retirement home in Beverly Hills.

Gidget was a trailblazer for the canine community, opening the door for other conversationally-gifted quadripeds in commercials that are now fixtures in popular culture. Vaya con Dios y una chalupa, la Chihuahua.
Image credit: Billy Mays:

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