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Cocaine Contributed to Death of Billy Mays

billy-maysAn autopsy report released today shows that cocaine use may have contributed to the sudden death of TV pitchman Billy Mays in June.

The Hillsborough County medical examiner's office previously determined that Mays had suffered a heart attack in his sleep at his Tampa home on June 28.

While heart disease was the primary cause of death, the medical examiner listed cocaine as a "contributory cause of death."

The medical examiner "concluded that cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease, and thereby contributed to his death," the office said in a press release.

It seems that Mays last used cocaine several days before his death and was not under the influence of the drug when he died. Hillsborough County spokeswoman Lori Hudson said nothing in the toxicology report indicated the frequency of Mays' cocaine use.

Cocaine can raise the arterial blood pressure, directly cause thickening of the left wall of the ventricle and accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the release said.

The toxicology tests also showed therapeutic amounts of painkillers hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol, as well as anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam and diazepam. Mays had suffered hip problems and was scheduled for hip-replacement surgery the day after he was found dead.

"We are extremely disappointed by the press release released by the Hillsborough County medical examiner's office. We believe it contains speculative conclusions that are frankly unnecessary and tend to obscure the conclusion that Billy suffered from chronic, untreated hypertension, which only demonstrates how important it is to regularly monitor one's health," read a statement released by the Mays family. "Given the hectic nature and pace of Billy's life, especially during the past 10 months of his exhaustive travel across the country, it was not surprising to hear that hypertension was the cause of his death."

The family's statement continued: "We were totally unaware of any non prescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results. As those who were close to Billy knew, he had been in chronic pain for more than two years and was about to have his third hip surgery in 18 months. His use of prescription pain medication for his hip condition was guided by his physician and was at recommended usage levels. This has been a very difficult period for our family and we appreciate the respect for our privacy that Billy's many clients, fans and members of the media have extended. We appreciate your continued thoughts and prayers for the family and will not have any immediate comment beyond this statement."

Mays began his sales career selling portable washing machines on the Atlantic City boardwalk after graduating from high school in 1977, beginning a career that would take him across the country, where he pitched products at state fairs, conventions and home and garden shows.

It was at a Pittsburgh home show in 1993 that Mays would jumpstart his career. There, he met Max Appel, founder of Orange Glo cleaning products. Mays began promoting OxiClean and other Orange Glo products on the Home Shopping Network, and sales took off. Mays continued to hawk OxiClean after the company was sold to consumer products giant Dwight and Church. But his showmanship lent itself to scores of other infomercial products that provided the blue-collar Mays a lavish lifestyle.

"I've done well for myself," Mays told USA TODAY in an interview this year. "The infomercial business has been good to me."

With many of the products he helped bring to market, Mays wasn't just a pitchman, he had a stake in overall sales.

Mays said he had a blueprint to determine what made products infomercial-worthy. "Is it demonstratable? Does it have that wow factor? Is it easy to use? Is it priced right? It's a funny business," Mays said. "I kind of compare it to baseball. I'm always looking for a home run."

Mays' style became so well known that he was used to promote ESPN and ABC's college bowl games, even health insurance. This year, he had teamed up with business partner and fellow pitchman Anthony Sullivan to star in Discovery Channel's "Pitchmen" reality show, which showed the pair judging fresh products for infomercial sales and how they'd market them.

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