Informercial Pitchman Billy Mays Dies at 50

Informercial Pitchman Billy Mays Dies at 50
Billy Mays
Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage

updated 06/28/2009 at 06:00 PM EDT

originally published 06/28/2009 12:35PM

Billy Mays, the bearded infomercial pitchman with the trademark shout, has died in his sleep at home.

"Everyone [who knew] him was aware of his larger-than-life personality, generosity and warmth," the Discovery Channel (which aired his series, Pitchmen with Anthony Sullivan) said in a statement. "Billy was a pioneer in his field … He will be greatly missed as a loyal and compassionate friend. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family at this time of incredible loss."

Authorities say the 50-year-old was pronounced dead Sunday morning after being found by his wife, Deborah Mays.

On Saturday, Mays was onboard a U.S. Airways flight that made a hard landing in Tampa, but Brenda Geoghagan, spokesperson for Tampa International Airport, tells PEOPLE none of the passengers sustained injuries. The flight "made an emergency landing Saturday because the two front tires blew out under the nose wheel," she says. "We had a rocky landing because of it, and passengers were taken off of the plane in a bus and driven to a secure area where they were interviewed then released to get their bags. There were no injuries then."

Lt. Brian Dugan, of the Tampa Police Dept., tells PEOPLE: "We suspect no foul play in the death of Billy Mays. We responded to a call from his wife at 7:45 a.m. Sunday morning along with Tampa Fire and Rescue. She said he was unresponsive. We are waiting for an autopsy report tomorrow or later this week."

He added, "He was under a doctor’s care for a recent hip surgery and was due to have his second surgery [Monday]. We have no reason to suspect his death had anything to do with the airplane's rough landing Saturday, but we can't comment until we have the autopsy report."

Mays, a married father of two, cut his teeth selling goods on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1980s, allowing him to develop a booming voice for such products as Oxi Clean and Kaboom. For some pitches, "My voice has gone for 16 hours straight," he told PEOPLE in March.

Always proud of his work, Mays added that he never endorsed a product he didn't believe in, hawking everything from household products to insurance. "I sell products that help people out; I'm a problem solver," he said. "I'm not an actor, I'm a pitchman [and] it's been an exciting ride."

With reporting by LINDA MARX

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