The new Billy Mays infomercial, and the deaths of other salesmen

As the direct-marketing industry copes with the sudden death of pitchman Billy Mays (right), it's worth considering the fragile relationship between celebrity endorsement and mortality. The tragedy of Mays's unexpected death at age 50, of a heart ailment in late June, has practical implications for A.J. Khubani (left), CEO of direct-to-consumer merchandiser Telebrands. Yesterday, Telebrands rolled out a national marketing campaign featuring the infomercial star -- eight days after his death.

Unexpected deaths can derail an ad campaign when a brand is too closely identified with the pitchman. The death of New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson in a plane crash, 30 years ago this summer, didn't harm the longterm sales of Williams' 'Lectric Shave -- but the demise of Wendy's founder Dave Thomas in 2002 devastated the fast-food company, which has struggled since then to re-establish an identity through an enduring campaign.