Mickey mantle died nearly three years ago, but in an age when advertising is far more advanced than medical science, no one ever really dies. The deceased or, rather, his heirs, just hire agents and sign endorsement deals. These days dead is in. Dead is hot. Dead sells. Someone should slap a suicide watch on John Madden, because today dying only increases your earning potential.
"As the technology evolves, the use of dead celebrities is on the rise," says Marc Per-man of International Creative Management, the agency hired by Mantle's family to explore opportunities for the late Yankees legend. Mantle's loved ones revealed that the Mick may soon be appearing in TV commercials, much the same way that Fred Astaire and John Wayne are shilling from the great beyond. Mickey's son David insists that the family will not allow his old man's image to be used in crass or tasteless ways. "We want to make sure Dad's not put on a toothpick," says David. Memo to Ted Williams's image-exploiting son, John Henry: Toothpicks might be perfect for you when the Splendid Splinter shuffles off this mortal coil.
What constitutes a classy and tasteful opportunity for a dead celeb? In his work from beyond the grave, the Duke sells beer, while the ever-elegant Astaire dances with a vacuum cleaner. Well, even death has an upside: At least Astaire doesn't have to see what they've done to him.
It would be nice to believe that Mantle's image will be desecrated with nothing more indelicate than a milk mustache, but no one expects that to happen. High standards are generally a lot to ask of people who put their dearly departed up for bids, so the Mick's life after death is more likely to be filled with tortilla chips, jock-itch spray and double-bacon cheeseburgers. "There are a lot of untapped things, and the idea is to keep Dad's name out there and do a good job with what's at hand," says David.
Few ex-jocks, never mind dead ones, still fascinate the public the way Mantle does, and few companies would pass up a chance to exploit the image of Mantle, especially the image of a young, wild and innocent Mantle. The Commerce Comet will no doubt bring new meaning to his old nickname, and we can only wonder how long his family will hold out before considering offers from the granddaddy of all male-targeting advertisers, beer companies. Mantle, who admitted to years of alcohol abuse, died of cancer two months after a liver transplant, but soon he'll be back, looking better than ever. It will be a miracle of modern advertising. It will also remind us that death is sometimes, as Gore Vidal termed Truman Capote's passing, a "good career move."