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Remembering An Inventor Who Sold Dreams In The Form Of Pocket Fishing Poles

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Insomniacs, gadget lovers, shopaholics and fans of dehydrated beef are all in mourning today.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The appliance that can slice, dice, chop...

SHAPIRO: America has lost the infomercial star and inventor Ron Popeil.

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RON POPEIL: Just four easy payments. And it makes a great gift.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Popeil, who was 86, died Wednesday.

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POPEIL: But wait. There's more.

CHANG: He came direct into our living rooms to sell us gadgets we didn't even know we needed until we had to have them, like the Bagel Cutter, the Hav-a-Maid Mop and the Whip-O-Matic.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I got one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I got this microphone, and I love it.

SHAPIRO: Generations of TV viewers saw Popeil pitch his Pocket Fisherman.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: There's never been anything like it - Popeil's Pocket Fisherman.

SHAPIRO: And hawk everything from the Veg-O-Matic to the Chop-O-Matic.

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POPEIL: I'm going to show you the greatest kitchen appliance ever made. It's called Chop-O-Matic.

CHANG: But wait. There's more. His biggest moneymaker was Ronco's Showtime Rotisserie and Barbecue. Popeil sold millions of the ovens and delivered his most memorable catchphrase.

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POPEIL: Just...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Set it and forget it.

SHAPIRO: Set it and forget it.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Popeil and his gadgets were widely parodied, like in the song "Mr. Popeil" by Weird Al Yankovic.

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WEIRD AL YANKOVIC: (Singing) You get a Ginsu knife and a smokeless ashtray.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Now how much would you pay?

YANKOVIC: (Singing) Now how much would you pay?

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC AND UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Mr. Popeil, Mr. Popeil.

SHAPIRO: And most famously, he was parodied in the Bass-O-Matic skit on "Saturday Night Live" with Dan Aykroyd.

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DAN AYKROYD: That's the whole bass into the Super Bass-O-Matic 76. Now I'll adjust the control dial.

CHANG: Yummy, yummy. But Popeil was in on the joke. He even voiced a version of himself for the animated series "Futurama."

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POPEIL: (As Ron Popeil's Head) I'm your host, Ron Popeil, inventor of Mr. Microphone, the spray-on toupee and, of course...

SHAPIRO: Really, Popeil was more beloved than mocked. For example, take this birthday tribute posted to Popeil's Facebook fan page last May.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Singing) Your spray-on hair really worked, but some people thought it was a joke. Bought a Showtime Rotisserie. Works like a champ, it's true. Now that you turn 85, I wish happy birthday to you.

CHANG: Ultimately, you didn't watch a Ron Popeil infomercial so much as get mesmerized by one

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POPEIL: ...Spend $400 or 350 or 320...

SHAPIRO: From Mr. Microphone to the smokeless ashtray, Popeil's infomercials introduced us to problems we didn't know we had.

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POPEIL: The Inside the Eggshell Egg Scrambler perfectly blends...

SHAPIRO: But a low, low price in four easy payments, he offered us solutions. And for that, we are grateful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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