Ron Popeil, hypnotic television pitchman Ron Popeil made his fortune peddling contraptions as quirky but strangely clever as the Veg-O-Matic and Mr. Microphone, has passed away

Ron Popeil, hypnotic television pitchman Ron Popeil made his fortune peddling contraptions as quirky but strangely clever as the Veg-O-Matic and Mr. Microphone, has passed away

With a sales technique honed as a curb scammer, hypnotic TV pitchman Ron Popeil has made his fortune peddling such offbeat but oddly clever contraptions like the Veg-O-Matic and Mr. Microphone.
As a pioneer, in the mid-20th century, of what became known as infomercials, Popeil and his hotly promoted products became part of the pop culture landscape.

With typical aplomb, Popeil called his 1995 autobiography “The Salesman of the Century,” a grand title that most likely reflected the truth.

Popeil, who helped create many of the gadgets he sold, died Wednesday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his family said in a statement. He was 86 years old. No cause of death was given.

Popeil’s closed Beverly Hills home was part of a sanctuary for silly-sounding devices that the Silver-Tongue Popeil was selling over and over again with signature lines like “But wait, there’s more!” And “Isn’t that amazing? “

The original products certainly looked like inventions Americans could live without – an Inside-the-Shell electric egg scrambler, fake hair sprayed in a box, the Pocket Fisherman (“the greatest fishing invention since the hook … And still only $ 19.95!), And the Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ in counter format (“Set it and forget it!”), One of his greatest hits.

His reimagined 1975 Veg-O-Matic is listed in the Smithsonian’s American Legacies collection alongside the Barbie doll, and comedian Dan Aykroyd vigorously parodied both the salesman and the machine in the Bass-O-Matic skits. on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s.

Years before selling his company, Ronco, for $ 55 million in 2005, Popeil – pronounced “poh-PEEL” – insisted he had moved more than $ 1 billion in merchandise.

“What Henry Ford was to industrial strength and genius, Ron Popeil is to the next generation of American ingenuity,” Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University. “In 100 years, people will be writing theses on him. “

Without Popeil, “there would be no TV shopping channels, no Medic Alert ‘I fell and I can’t get up’ gadgets, no Clapper,” said John Mingo, editor of “The Whole.” Pop Catalog ”to USA Today in 1993.

Ronald Martin Popeil was born on May 3, 1935 in the Bronx. When he was 3, his parents divorced and basically abandoned him.

“I don’t like to talk about my family. It wasn’t very warm, ”he said more than once.

Popeil and his older brother spent their early years at a residential school in upstate New York. The parents never visited him, he said later.

His paternal grandparents claimed the brothers when Ron was around 7 and they lived with an aunt in Florida before moving to Chicago with their grandparents when Popeil was 13.

But his childhood remained unhappy. His grandparents were constantly fighting and his grandfather was mean, Popeil later said.

In Chicago, Popeil began to discover his family heritage while working weekends at Popeil Brothers, founded by his father and an uncle in 1939.

The father he barely knew was Samuel Popeil, a descendant of sidewalk scammers and cookware maker. He also offered gadgets such as the original Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket Fisherman.

On Chicago’s Maxwell Street, Popeil turned to selling his father’s inventions and discovered he had an affinity for it.

“Thanks to sales, I was able to escape the poverty and miserable existence I had with my grandparents,” Popeil writes in his autobiography. “I had lived for 16 years in a loveless house, and now I had finally found some form of affection and a human connection through the sale.

A lonely teenager, Popeil peddled merchandise around Woolworth’s flagship town center, giving up to six demonstrations in an hour.

“He was fascinating,” Mel Korey, his first business partner, told The New Yorker in 2000. “There were secretaries who took their lunch break at Woolworth’s to watch him because he was so handsome. “

After dropping out of the University of Illinois after 18 months, Popeil worked in the fair circuit. He claimed to have made $ 1,000 a week, a fortune in the 1950s, and did so talking 10 to 12 hours a day, almost non-stop.

When a friend told him he could produce an advertisement for around $ 500 at a Tampa, Florida TV station, Popeil made a two-minute spot in the mid-1950s for the Ronco Spray Gun, a nozzle high pressure which was one of the few products he sold that he didn’t help create.

He was buying all the time he could find cheaply on local TV channels and sales were skyrocketing.

“Television paved the way for me,” Popeil told magazine in 2009. “It put me in the big world. “

A few years later, he starred and shot another commercial for Chop-O-Matic – another product invented by his father.

The Chop-O-Matic was so successful that it led to the reinvented Veg-O-Matic, which was largely responsible for growing sales from $ 200,000 to $ 8.8 million in just four years. , according to Popeil’s memoir. Still, he insisted that his relationship with his father has always remained strictly commercial.

The first contraption that Popeil himself created was the Smokeless Ashtray. After noticing the need to cover his own baldness, he came up with a spray formula to cover thinning hair and baldness and named it GLH for “beautiful hair”.

For a while, he and his father ran separate public companies that sold similar goods.

When his father died at 69 in 1984, his Times obituary noted that his second wife, Eloise, had been convicted of attempting to have him murdered. After serving a 19-month sentence, the elder Popeil remarried her.

Young Popeil, who has married four times, admitted spending too much time working.

In 1970, it was worth around $ 13 million. A recession in the early 1980s affected sales and creditors forced the company to liquidate in 1984.

When Ronco’s trademarks and inventory were auctioned off a few years later, Popeil bought them back for around $ 2 million.

He kicked off his return to television in the 1990s as a born-again practitioner of the 30-minute infomercial, which had mostly grown during his absence. Popeil sold food hydrators and pasta makers – and claimed to make more money than ever.

When he sold Ronco in 2005, he said he wanted to spend more time with his two young daughters. He is also committed to developing what he said is his latest kitchen gadget, a deep fryer for turkeys.

Popeil is survived by his fourth wife, Robin, whom he married in 1995, and five daughters.


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