Billy Mays died today at age 50. Most people connect Billy Mays to the products he pitched, like OxiClean, and I’m guessing that would make him proud. I never met Billy, but I wish I had. Many people will remember him for his enthusiasm, and that is fitting. I’ll remember him, because more than anyone I know of, Billy Mays embodied hardworking, vigorous American entrepreneurialism and the American dream.

Billy was born into working-class Pennsylvania home, and after a short stint at college, he began the grueling work of pitching products to passers-by on the Atlantic City boardwalk, transitioning to an arduous schedule of state fairs and auto shows for another 12 years. He loved what he did, and he was, by all accounts, kind and good with a strong sense of fairness. The man who hired Billy to be the national spokesman for Orange Glo was former rival, Max Appel, who had once competed fiercely with Billy for audiences at events. Billy earned Max’s respect and his friendship when he lent Max a microphone when Max’s had broken.

When Billy made himself into a household name, he wasn’t just some TV actor who’d won an audition. Billy Mays was the real deal. Through his own hard work and his own ingenuity, he developed a memorable pitching style and parlayed it into a multi-million dollar empire. All with an easy sense of humor that was as happy to laugh at jokes about himself as about anything.

In a world transfixed by cheap thrills and momentary sensationalism, where respect falls too often upon useless “high brow” experts who just bloviate about the abstract, Billy Mays sold products by communicating their value, and he thrived in a realm where only concrete results mattered. He made his name famous through many years of hard work and exceptional performance. How many famous people can we say that about? (At our house, we keep a tub of OxiClean by the washer & dryer, and it works.)

He is survived by his wife, his 3-year old daughter, and his stepson in his 20s. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them.