Ron Popeil, Infomercial Legend, Dead at 86

by John Jamison

We’ve all woken up late at night to the familiar patterns of an enthusiastic pitchman selling us on the wonders of a “miracle” kitchen product. Well, we have one man to thank for the rise of infomercial products in America. Ron Popeil, the inventor of such groundbreaking products as the Chop-O-Matic, the Bedazzler, the Pocket Fisherman, and Mr. Microphone, passed away this morning at 86 years old.

According to TMZ, Popeil’s family reported that he suffered a medical emergency Tuesday night. He received care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles before passing away on Wednesday morning.

Born in 1930s New York, Ron Popeil’s start came on the manufacturing side of kitchen products. It wasn’t long before he discovered a knack for not only inventing useful kitchen products but also his ability to sell them. And sell them he did.

His impact on the culture of TV-based product sales will not soon be forgotten. In 1964, Ron Popeil established Ronco, a company that would forever change the approach to kitchen product sales.

Ronco’s Most Memorable Products

Perhaps Ron Popeil’s most recognizable product and/or infomercial was for the Showtime Rotisserie & Barbeque.

The memorable phrase “Set it and forget it!” was born out of the sale of this simple machine that went on to earn more than $1 billion. Speaking of money, in the years leading up to and following the Showtime Rotisserie, Ron Popeil amassed a mind-blowing net worth of $200,000,000.

And who could forget the iconic Pocket Fisherman? Another best-selling Ronco product, the handheld fishing rig from the 1970s was designed for maximum portability while boasting big catch potential. The product was customizable, from the line on down to storing your spare lure of choice in the built-in tacklebox handle.

Perhaps the most recognizable product to a contemporary audience, however, is the Ronco Chop-O-Matic. The product was the predecessor to the famed SlapChop. But with Ron Popeil at the helm, it sold over 2 million units.

Ron Popeil’s impact on television extended beyond infomercials. In the mid-1970s, his personality became so well-known that Saturday Night Live saw fit to have Dan Akroyd do a hilarious rendition of Popeil’s sales pitches. You can watch the sketch below.

Popeil became such a respected voice in the world of product sales that when TMZ caught up with him in 2017, they couldn’t help but ask him about the appeal of fidget spinners. It seems like an eternity ago now, but there was a time it seemed all anyone talked about was the incredibly simple toy.

“I think it’s a great thing for passing time,” Popeil said in 2017. “It is a flash in the pan. Because those things have been around for a thousand years. It’s a flash in the pan.”

Do you know what hasn’t been around for a thousand years? Pocket Fisherman. Without Ron Popeil, countless products like that, ranging from novelty to truly useful, would have never been invented.

Rest in peace, Ron.