In Need of a Wireless Mic or Food Dehydrator? He Was Your Guy

Infomercial icon and Ronco pitchman Ron Popeil dies at 86
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 29, 2021 7:57 AM CDT
Infomercial King Ron Popeil Dead at 86
In this Dec. 8, 1982, file photo, Ron Popeil sits surrounded by his wares in his office in Beverly Hills, Calif.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

In the darkest, wee-est hours of the nights of yore, when all the real TV programming ran out, there used to be something called infomercials: entire TV programs about people selling products that might be useful to you but that you probably didn't know you wanted. These immediate forebears of home-shopping channels and, beyond them, the content marketing techniques of the 21st century were where Ron Popeil, an American original who gave the world the word "Ronco" and died Wednesday at 86, thrived, per the AP. America has always been smitten by both high-spirited inventors and yarn-spinning salesmen. Popeil was both, amplified by the airwaves into millions of homes. He titled his mid-'90s memoir The Salesman of the Century, and he was a 20th-century man to the core, a cultural descendant of both Thomas Edison and PT Barnum.

As CEO, sales rep, and user-in-chief rolled into one, Popeil was a guy whose "As Seen on TV" commercials in the 1970s, from the astonishingly wireless Mr. Microphone to the Food Dehydrator, became pop-culture touchstones. He also edited his own infomercials, scrawled out his own cue cards, and wrote the copy for his "operators standing by." He would call his babies by affectionate names (the Popeil Electric Pasta-Sausage Maker became, simply, "Pasta-Sausage"), and he was known to drift into William Shatner-style staccato to make his points: "A child! Can make! Homemade sausages!" he was found shouting on QVC one night in 1997. Even after success, bankruptcy, and a second chapter of success, Popeil insisted his drive to invent was more than mercantile. "I have enough money today," he told the AP that same year. "But ... if there's a need for these things, I can't help myself." As Popeil himself loved to say, wait—there's more. For Ron Popeil, there always was.

(More Ron Popeil stories.)

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