B.B. King’s Warmth, Talent and Laid-Back Charm Made Him the Perfect Ad Star

The guitar legend was a 'sweetheart of a man'

For decades, B.B. King has been one of the world's most iconic guitarists and musical entrepreneurs. With a chain of blues clubs under his name and a lasting presence in pop culture, he consistently walked an impressive balance of selling his talents without selling out.

This week, at age 89, King lost his decades-long battle with diabetes. He will be remembered as one of the greatest blues legends of his day and as one of the most approachable stars of a musical style that often celebrated hard-living personalities who thrived on carefully maintained mystique.

From the 1980s all the way through 2014, King could frequently be found in television ads, blending his signature sound with his engaging personality. Musicians often struggle to maintain a cool persona while selling random products, but King always came across as a smooth and effortless pitchman who was happy to share the spotlight with others.

"What a sweetheart of a man," remembered Regena Bearden, vp of marketing and public relations for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. "He was so generous with his time, and he never forgot how much his home state of Mississippi and his adopted city of Memphis did for him. He was always on the road touring, but he always came back here for his birthday. He never said 'no' to us."

Bearden said King was tireless in his support of Memphis and its tourism initiatives, even well into his senior years.

"B.B. was a very gracious person to work with. Many times when he worked with us on campaigns, he would make appearances for us. In 2004, we did a campaign around the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll, and B.B. was one of our ambassadors. We created a blues trail and created historic markers, and B.B. would come in for those things," she said. "And of course lending his name to Beale Street and the night club was one of the ways the Beale Street came back in the '80s."

We've rounded up a few examples still available online from his many years of creating ads, which you can check out below:

King, who spent decades living with Type 2 diabetes, was a longtime spokesman for blood glucose monitoring device One Touch Ultra. His warmth, candor and direct connection to the product helped breathe memorable life into the typically sterile field of medical device ads.

 

Here's a charming Australian McDonald's ad from the mid-1990s featuring King and a talented young guitarist named Nathan Cavaleri, who learned the instrument as a way to take his mind off his battle with leukemia. Cavaleri has been in remission since age 13.

As recently as 2014, King was still appearing in commercials, even if his role was a bit more sedate. Here's his Toyota Camry ad appearance:

Unlike many musicians who took themselves incredibly serious, King always seemed willing to have fun with ads and just embrace the silliness of the industry. Here's a classic bit of Fritos jingle creation: