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K-Tel Founder And Infomercial Icon Philip Kives Dies At 87

Philip Kives, master of the infomercial, has died. He was 87. With gadgets like the Miracle Brush and — wait, there's more! — the Veg-O-Matic food slicer, Kives started reeling in customers when he founded K-tel International in the 1960s.

Samantha Kives, who said her father died after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness, told The Guardian that he always made time for his family.

"He would literally leave in the middle of a business meeting to come watch us play in a tennis tournament," she told the newspaper. "The commercials were also a family affair. A lot of the commercials he shot, he'd bring us kids in ... and we'd be actors in the commercials."

On the K-tel website, Kives described his upbringing on a farm in rural Canada in the '30s.

"We struggled on our small farm, living on welfare for many years, as did other farmers in our area," he wrote. "Whatever we grew in the garden, plus the butter and the cheese that we made, and chicken and eggs that we raised ... was what we lived on."

He recounted selling the Feather-Touch Knife in 1965. In four months, he wrote, "I had sold one million knives and netted a dollar a knife. All I did was sell the product into the store and buy the television time. After the difficulties of farming, I couldn't believe how easy this was."

In addition to infomercials, Kives invented the concept of compilation albums, the Guardian reports, saying that music was "just another product" for him. The newspaper adds:

"While artists might bristle at the idea of being sold in the same way as a tool for chopping vegetables or cleaning suede, for Kives it was still the boardwalk and he was gripped by the thrill of sell, sell, sell."

Kives also bred racehorses. Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs racetrack in Winnipeg, Canada, called Kives a "giant in the racing world" on the track's website. Dunn told Canada's CBC:

"If you were going to go head-to-head with him in business, if you were going to go head-to-head with him in breeding horses, head-to-head in a horse race, you'd better get tied on, you better be on your game, you better get up very, very early, because it's mano a mano."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.