Exploiting celebrity deaths for fun and profit

It's a little crass to acknowledge, but the death of a celebrity is, among many other things, a money-making opportunity. But perhaps it's best not to seem too eager to treat it as such, lest you offend those people whose dollars you covet.

Today brings two examples of parties who crossed the line: OK magazine, which chose a photo of a dying (or already dead) Michael Jackson for the cover of its latest issue, and home-shopping mogul A.J. Khubani, who confirmed plans to air an infomercial next week featuring famed pitchman Billy Mays, who died over the weekend.
OK is already catching flak for publishing the ghoulish photo of Jackson strapped to a stretcher, en route to the hospital -- for which privilege it paid a reported $500,000. Just about every magazine that has anything to do with entertainment, from People to Rolling Stone and all the way on up to Time, is offering some sort of Jackson tribute, and all kinds of premium-priced bookazines and commemorative issues are being rushed to market. But the rule with this sort of thing is to celebrate the celebrity's life, not his death. A gritty corpse shot is an especially head-scratching move for OK, which has been trying to position itself to advertisers as a more upscale read, not just another supermarket tabloid.

Khubani, CEO of Telebrands, doesn't have to worry too much about his image; good taste isn't a requirement in the infomercial business. But to roll out a spot starring the late Mays -- for a device called the Jupiter Jack -- risks the appearance of incredible callousness, especially since OxiClean maker Church & Dwight has said it's shelving all of his ads out of respect for his bereaved family.

I sent a message to Mays's son, Billy Mays III, to find out if Khubani's planned use of the Jupiter Jack spot does, in fact, contravene the family's wishes. I'll let you know if I hear back.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: A.J. Khubani assures DailyFinance that he did, in fact, obtain the blessing of the Mays family for the Jupiter Jack rollout. Also, an earlier version of this story incorrectly described Church & Dwight as Mays's company.

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