Ron Popeil, whose direct marketing company Ronco flooded American television for decades with a seemingly endless skein of commercials and infomercials for offbeat consumer appliances, passed away at the age of 86.
Selling The Sizzle: Born in New York in 1935, Popeil’s father Samuel J. Popeil was an inventor who created the kitchen gadgets Chop-O-Matic and Veg-O-Matic. Popeil worked as a distributor for his father’s projects and produced low-budget television commercials to hype up the appliances.
Popeil founded Ronco in 1964 and used television to peddle a wide and often wacky product line — he took credit for inventing many of the items — and his commercials stood out for using colorful language to detail the value of these frequently bizarre items.
Among the most notable Ronco offerings and accompanying pitch lines were the Inside-The-Shell Egg Scrambler (“Gets rid of those slimy egg whites in your scrambled eggs”), the Ronco Rhinestone Stud Setter (“It changes everyday clothing into exciting fashions and you don’t have to spend a fortune”) and a miniature fishing pole called the Popeil Pocket Fisherman (“The biggest fishing invention since the hook”). The company also sold compilation albums of popular music, including the novelty tune collection “Funny Favorites” and the disco line-up “Boogie Nights.”
Ronco’s commercials were high-energy endeavors that breathlessly praised the products on display while reminding viewers about the significant cost-efficiency they could enjoy by bringing this merchandise into their homes. (The products were mostly sold by mail order and were not available in retail stores.) This hyperactive approach was parodied by “Saturday Night Live” with Dan Ackroyd as a Ronco-worthy pitchman hawking an unlikely kitchen appliance called “Bat-O-Matic.”
The Ultimate Chicken Dinner: During the 1990s, when half-hour infomercials became part of the U.S. television landscape, Popeil gained his greatest following as the host of a production featuring the Showtime Rotisserie. With the catchphrase “just set it and forget it,” an apron-clad Popeil showed a studio audience how his product could spice up dinnertime. Through his charismatic showmanship, the Showtime Rotisserie sold more than $1 billion worth of products.
Popiel sold Ronco to Fi-Tek VII, a Denver-based holding company, in 2005 for $55 million. He stayed in the public eye through guest appearances on television comedy programs and talk shows.
Popeil died Wednesday morning at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles after experiencing what his family described as a “severe medical emergency” the night before.
Photo: Screenshot of Ron Popeil from a 1990s infomercial for the Showtime Rotisserie.