In September 2006, I taped a game show called The Rich List, I’ve referred to it briefly here. It was a listing game on Fox where they paired you with a total stranger and the two of you competed with another pair of total strangers at listing things like Tom Cruise movies or states with the letter A in them or people who have been on Saturday Night Live. I was paired with a man named Bill May, a slightly cantankerous divorced 63 year old Marina del Ray resident with a carpet cleaning business. The producers were going for total opposites and in this regard, they succeeded. In total, Bill and I won three matches, ultimately winning $425,000 that was split evenly between us. We were there three days and each day, the only time we were allowed to talk to each other was when the cameras were rolling. We were either sequestered in a dressing room alone or sequestered in a booth with P.A.’s assigned to make sure we didn’t talk to each other. The only information we gleaned about each other was when the host, Eamonn Holmes asked us questions about our lives. It was an interesting way to build the friendship.
Even though we ultimately won more money, the most exhilarating moment was on the second day when we won $150,000 and we were jumping up and down and hugging each other and Bill mistily told Eamonn, “That’s life-changing money.” It was a sound byte the producers latched onto and in the months to come, that clip aired repeatedly as part of the promo for the show. More than a sound byte, it was also the truth.
In the weeks that followed the taping but preceded the airing, Bill and I talked on the phone a couple times and then met for lunch. He told me about his business and about his son and daughter. I fretted that maybe the episode would never air and he assured me we had nothing to worry about.
On November 1, 2006 The Rich List premiered on Fox, featuring Bill and me. They showed our first two successful matches that we won. On November 3, 2006, Fox announced they had cancelled The Rich List because of poor reviews and poor ratings.
On February 5, 2007, I received a check in the mail for $212,500. After five months of worrying and daydreaming and night-maring about the check, I had it in my grubby fingers and as Bill said, it was life-changing money. Bill and I met again a few times after, once for lunch and a couple times to do game show run-throughs for the Rich List producers. It was great to see him every time. We shared a very specific mutual experience, to say the least.
In the Fall of 2007, I looked at Bill’s imdb page (everyone really is an actor in LA) and I clicked on the message board and was shocked to find out that he had passed away. The next day, I called the number that doubled as his work number and his business partner told me what happened. I knew Bill had some health issues, and he’d passed away from a heart attack in his sleep on June 2, 2007.
The last time I saw him, he bragged that he’d bought a sports car for his daughter and he was helping to pay for his son’s wedding and these were gifts he might not have been able to impart were it not for The Rich List. I told him about things I was able to do for my parents and for myself that would not have been possible without the show as well. And we acknowledged the role of synergy and knew that had we been paired with someone else, the results could have easily been less lucrative.
Sometimes when I write these posts, I don’t really know who I’m writing them for. Other times I’m a little more focused. This post is really for two people: Bill’s son and daughter. I hope that someday you’ll be on the Internet googling Bill May Rich List or Bill May actor or Bill May game show and you’ll find this missive. I want you both to know that your father loved you very much. In the months after the taping, we talked about many things, but no topic illicited the joy that talking about you two did. And I also want you to know that I will forever be in his debt. While that money is all gone, every last penny, your Dad was correct: it changed my life.