Television marketer, inventor and undisputed king of infomercials, Ron Popeil, died this past Wednesday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 86.
He became a cultural icon hawking contraptions people had never heard of and never knew they needed until they heard Ron on a late night informercial. He became known for his signature lines: “Set it and forget it!” “Isn’t that amazing?” “Less shipping and handling” and, of course, “But wait! There’s more!”
A New York Times article said, “Many American homes still have, or once had, the products he hawked, some schlocky gizmos that were quickly discarded and other long-running fixtures: the Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ, the Ronco Electric Food Dehydrator, Popeil’s Pasta & Sausage Maker, Mr. Microphone, the Bagel Cutter and the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler, among them.”
“The products chopped, charred, shined, sharpened, cleaned, massaged, folded a fishing rod into a pocket and covered bald spots with a spray can. He sold them all without shouting, a folksy, calming presence that made half-hour infomercials their own form of entertainment as he demonstrated the product and set up testimonials from the audience.” 1
One of his most popular items was the Veg-O-Matic. It is in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in the “Legacies Collection,” alongside Barbie. He was frequently parodied and didn’t seem to mind, including a Saturday Night Live sketch back in 1976 where Dan Akroyd hawked the “Bass-O-Matic" in a faux commercial where he chopped up an entire raw fish in a food blender. All the while bragging the days of “troublesome scaling, cutting and gutting are over!”
USA TODAY said, “He was a classic American showman, equal parts P.T. Barnum and Thomas Edison, a popularizer who saw consumer’s needs and then found accessible ways to entice them into making purchases. More than just a salesman, Popeil was an inventor in his own right, creating products like Popeil’s Pasta Maker and Food Dehydrator and the Showtime ‘set it and forget it’ Rotisserie, which grossed over $1 billion in sales.” 2
He was born in the Bronx in 1935 and his parents divorced when he was three, basically abandoning him. He spent his early years in a boarding school with his brother until his paternal grandparents claimed them. They eventually moved to Chicago and he rediscovered his family heritage, even selling his father’s inventions on Maxwell Street.
“No matter what we accomplish in this life, there’s more to come.”
According to his autobiography Ron said, “I had lived for 16 years in a home without love, and now I had finally found a form of affection and a human connection through sales.” He sold his Ronco company for $55 million in 2005 and insisted he had moved over $1 billion in merchandise.
Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University once told the Associated Press, “What Henry Ford was to industrial strength and genius, Rob Popeil is to the next generation of American ingenuity. People 100 years from now are going to be writing dissertations on him.” 3
He was the forerunner of the Home Shopping Network, QVC, Planet Auction, Shop HQ, the Gem Shopping Network and JTV Live among others, and there is no question he made a difference in this world, especially when it comes to home products we never knew about or knew we needed.
Sources say he died suddenly, but peacefully, this past Wednesday night, surrounded by family.
I hope he knew the Lord. Because no matter what we accomplish in this life, there’s more to come.
That’s no salesman’s pitch. That’s Scripture’s promise. (Hebrews 9:27; Mark 8:36; John 14:1-6)
© 2021. Barry L. Cameron
1 Victor, Daniel. “Ron Popeil, Inventor and Ubiquitous Infomercial Pitchman, Dies at 86.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 July 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/07/29/business/ron-popeil-dead.html.
2 Trepany, Charles. “Ron Popeil, Infomercial Icon Known for 'But WAIT! THERE'S More' Catchphrase, Dead at 86.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 29 July 2021, www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2021/07/28/ron-popeil-infomercial-icon-dead-86/5411220001/.
3 “Ron Popeil, the HYPNOTIC TV Pitchman Ron Popeil Made a FORTUNE Hawking Such OFFBEAT Yet Oddly Clever Contraptions as THE VEG-O-MATIC and Mr. Microphone, Has Died.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 29 July 2021, www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2021-07-28/ron-popeil-pitchman-dead.
Barry Cameron is a devoted father and husband, bestselling author, dynamic communicator, and Senior Pastor of Crossroads Christian Church. Crossroads has a gorgeous, 150-acre campus in Grand Prairie, Texas. More than 8000 people call Crossroads their church home. Barry’s latest book, The Road to Financial Freedom, came out in the fall of 2020 and is available on Amazon. It’s another game changer for individuals and families who want to fix their finances once and for all.
Barry and his wife, Janis, have three children: Katie, Matt and Kelli. A daughter-in-law, Lindley and a son-in law, Johnny. They also have two grandsons, Will and Levi. Their family has been completely debt free since November 15, 2001.
Crossroads Christian Church has been debt free since November 9, 2008.