Ron Popeil, the television marketer and inventor often dubbed the "infomercial king" with products including the Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket Fisherman, has died. Popeil died "suddenly and peacefully" Wednesday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his representative Eric Ortner confirmed in a statement shared with CNN. Family sources told TMZ Popeil experienced a severe medical emergency Tuesday, though an exact cause of death was not provided. Popeil was 86.
Born in New York in May 1935, Popeil's rise as "the father of the television infomercial" began in Chicago-area flea markets when he was just 16. It was there, according to his biography, that Popeil would start his day at 5 a.m. and gross as much as $500 per day. By 17, he amassed enough of a savings to move out on his own and set up a stand at the flagship Woolworth store in Chicago. In 1959, Popeil transitioned to television and made his first infomercial for the Chop-o-Matic, which "quickly spread nationally and made millions turning Popeil into a household name." From there, Popeil marketed hundreds of products to a global television audience, including the Pocket Fisherman, Mr. Microphone, and the Electric Food Dehydrator. However, Popeil is perhaps best remembered for his infomercial for the Showtime Rotisserie, where he coined the phrase, "Set it and forget it!" The product grossed more than $1 billion in domestic sales. Popeil also popularized the catchphrase "But wait, there's more," as well as "Now how much would you pay?" and "Less Shipping and Handling."
Popeil's infomercials made him something of a cultural icon, and he became the subject of frequent parody. In 1976, he was parodied by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live's "Bass-O-Matic." The skit saw Aykroyd touting that "the days of troublesome scaling, cutting and gutting are over" as he chopped up a raw fish in a blender. He was also parodied in the SNL skit "Popeil Galactic Prophylactic." Popeil also made several TV and film appearances, including on The X-Files, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, among many others. According to his biography, "Popeil has been on more television channels for more hours in more markets for more years than virtually all other celebrities in American television history."
"He lived his life to the fullest and passed in the loving arms of his family," a statement announcing his death read. "The father of the television infomercial, Ron Popeil, was a trailblazer; he rose from a modest upbringing in a fractured home to become a ubiquitous name and face in direct-to-consumer marketing and inventing."
Popeil's other products include the Buttoneer, the Smokeless Ashtray, the Inside-the-Egg Scrambler, GLH-9 (Great Looking Hair Formula #9) Hair in a Can Spray, Rhinestone stud setter, and the Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker, among many others. He is survived by his wife Robin, four daughters, and four grandchildren.