June 29, 2009 / 6:23 PM / 10 years ago

TV "pitchman" Mays had heart disease, no trauma

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Billy Mays, well known for pitching a variety of products in U.S. television commercials, had heart disease but did not appear to have suffered head trauma in a rough airplane landing prior to dying in his sleep on Sunday, a medical examiner in Florida said on Monday.

Billy Mays in an undated photo. REUTERS/C&W Co./Handout

The bearded, black-haired Mays, 50, who gained fame as an enthusiastic TV “pitchman” advertising an array of commercial products, was found dead by his wife at their home in Tampa, Florida.

On Saturday, Mays was among the passengers aboard a U.S. Airways flight from Philadelphia that landed roughly at Tampa International Airport after apparently blowing a tire.

Mays told local TV shortly afterward that objects had dropped from the ceiling of the plane upon impact and he had received a blow on the head, although he said at the time he felt fine.

In a preliminary statement on Monday after an initial autopsy, Hillsborough County medical examiner Vernard Adams said his examination found that Mays had “hypertensive heart disease,” which refers to heart disease caused by high blood pressure, but “there was no evidence of any head trauma.”

Adams said this heart ailment “was certainly capable of causing the sudden death.” He said Mays had died in his sleep.

“It’s not unusual for persons with heart disease to die this young,” Adams said, adding that a formal report on the cause of death would be issued only after the results of toxicology tests were considered.

Toxicology tests can show the presence of drugs in the body.

Tampa police said no foul play was suspected.

Executives from the television home-shopping industry praised Mays’ role in promoting TV salesmanship.

“DRTV (the direct-response television industry) has grown to be a $300 billion business during the last 20 years, and Billy Mays played a key role in making this possible,” Julie Coons, president and CEO of the Electronic Retailing Association, said in a statement.

Reporting by Robert Green; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Will Dunham

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