Of all the celebrity deaths over the past week, it was Billy Mays that hit me the hardest. I’ve worked with a lot of celebrities and musicians over the years. Mostly through their agents who convey the artist’s list of demands which are likely coming from the artists themselves so you get a pretty good sense of who the nice, easy to work with ones are and which are the high maintenance impossible-to-please celebs.
Last year I worked on a project for one of our clients and they wanted Billy Mays to star in the campaign. I went through my usual resources looking for his agent or manager but came up with nothing. I played detective and managed to track down his e-mail address. I reached out to him and he immediately called me back. He didn’t have an agent, manger, lawyer or anyone working for him. He was a one-man show. He was also straight shooter which I loved (being one myself) and we immediately bonded. Commercial production and the infomercial world are two very different worlds. I taught him all about ours and he taught me about his. Every conversation I had with him lasted no less than 40 minutes. He always had a story to share and he would tell me about his work, his family and his health. He had recently lost 40 pounds (mainly from swimming) and had a hip replaced. He had a young daughter that was the light of his life. He was genuinely one of the nicest guys I had ever worked with. When the paperwork was signed and I turned him over to the creative team, I made them all promise to be nice to him. When we had that first conference call introducing him to the team, they all expected the yelly guy from TV, but instead they got my sweet little Billy Mays. Within moments I could tell they would soon feel the same way I did about him.
When production time came around and he found out I wasn’t going to be at the shoot, he was genuinely disappointed. (I never get to actually go so it never occurred to me to mention it) I made the producer promise to take extra special care of him (which he did). When I tried to arrange his travel, he said he would just book it himself and just send me receipts. When I arranged for a car service, he said don’t bother – he would just take a cab (I made him take the car). Everyone loved working with him and he had a wonderful experience himself. Everyone was happy and we made some great commercials. Here’s one of them:
When I opened up my computer Sunday and saw an e-mail with the subject “Billy Mays”, I never in a million years thought the message would say that he died. I just kept repeating “What? What?? What???” until I finally turned to my family and uttered the words “Billy Mays is dead”. And then I started crying. (like I am again right now) Both my husband and Nash knew what a nice guy he was because I had told them repeatedly. And even though Nash had no idea who Michael Jackson was, he knew who Billy Mays was. And he was a little sad too.
I still can’t believe it. My heart goes out to his family, especially that little girl that he loved so much.
Rest in peace, Billy. You were a first class act and you’ll be missed.