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Heart disease cited as possible cause in Billy Mays' death

TAMPA - Heart disease may have killed TV pitchman Billy Mays, initial autopsy results indicate. There was evidence that Mays had hypertensive heart disease and hardening of the arteries, Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Vernard Adams said today. There was a thickening of the wall of the left ventricle of the heart and a thickening of the walls of an artery supplying the heart, an autopsy found. Adams said such heart disease is capable of causing sudden death. The official cause of death is being withheld until complete autopsy results are available, which could take six to eight weeks.
Mays was found dead Sunday morning in his South Tampa town home. There had been speculation that he received a blow to the head Saturday during a rough airplane landing, as well as speculation about a blood clot migrating from his leg to his heart. There were no signs of head trauma or blood clots, Adams said at a news conference. In a statement issued today, Mays' wife, Deborah, said, "Billy would be overwhelmed to see that his life touched so many people in a positive way. ... While it provides some closure to learn that heart disease took Billy from us, it certainly doesn't ease the enormous void that his death has created in our lives." The death of the 50-year-old TV infomercial icon, whose trademark booming voice and high-energy style generated billions of dollars in product sales, is being called a great loss by those in television sales. A.J. Khubani, founder of "As Seen on TV" product company TeleBrands, said he is in a state of disbelief over the loss of a man who "was truly one of a kind." "Billy's distinctive voice and style became a staple in our industry," Khubani said. There also was an outpouring of local reaction. "Our phone lines were flooded all morning with people who shared stories about Billy Mays, all them recalling what a nice guy he was," said radio host Todd "MJ Kelli" Schnitt of WFLZ, 93.3 FM, who aired an interview with Mays' son this morning. Billy Mays III, 23, said he learned of his father's death about 10 a.m. Sunday. He told Schnitt he had spoken to his father the day before, and his dad had sounded tired and nervous about a hip surgery planned for Monday. He said his father was a gentle, generous man. "Honestly, last night, I wanted to thank him one more time and tell him how proud of him I am," Mays III said on the radio show. "He's made it so far. He's given me so much." He said the funeral will likely be held in Mays' hometown of Pittsburgh. Deborah Mays woke Sunday morning and found her husband in bed and not breathing, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. On the emotional 911 call, a dispatcher begins to give CPR instructions to a distraught woman, but a male caller comes on the line and says the efforts would be futile. "It's too late ... he's gone," the male voice says. Family members told police Mays hadn't been feeling well Saturday and went to bed early. Hours before, he had been aboard a US Airways flight from Philadelphia that blew its front tires on landing at TIA, resulting in bumps and bruises to some passengers. Mays, who was active on the Twitter social networking site, posted his last update at 2:01 p.m. Saturday. "Just had a close call landing in Tampa," Mays wrote. "The tires blew out upon landing. Stuck in the plane on the runway. You can always count on US Air." Mays' energy and distinctive looks, with an ever-present grin framed by black hair and beard, created a household image that Forbes magazine said accounted for more than $1 billion in combined sales with producer and partner Anthony "Sully" Sullivan. Mays was regarded as the "king of infomercials" and widely acknowledged as the most successful direct-response TV salesman in history. The Discovery Channel show "Pitchmen" was a chance for viewers to peek in on Mays' work, said his brother-in-law Dan Wooley. He took great pleasure in working a product and seeing it go from nothing to a success. "He loved to sell. He loved to pitch," Wooley said. "He was good at it. You could see that on his face."

Tribune reporters Walt Belcher, Josh Poltilove and Ray Reyes, and News Channel 8 reporters Chip Osowski and Natalie Shepherd contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

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