Self-proclaimed “King Of The Infomercials” Don Lapre reportedly committed suicide yesterday morning in his Arizona jail cell, just a few days before he was due to stand trial for 41 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and promotional money laundering. Lapre stood accused of swindling around 220,000 customers out of some $52 million with his most recent pitch dubbed “The Greatest Vitamin In The World,” which the FDA argued did not provide the benefits Lapre promised. Lapre was 47.
Lapre had been a fixture of late-night television since the early ’90s, when he began producing infomercials promoting his “Money Making Secrets”—essentially a collection of brochures and audiotapes that relayed strategies for setting up 1-900 numbers and placing "tiny classified ads" to then make money off of other curious recruits. Over the years, the ads promoting his pyramid schemes—which often found Lapre kicked back at some tropical location, excitedly extolling how easy it was to make money while using only the vaguest terms about believing in yourself and so on—were the subject of frequent ridicule and parody (most memorably by David Spade on Saturday Night Live). And even though the consumer watchdog groups weren’t laughing, Lapre’s methods were mostly regarded as innocuous, and ignored by all but the most vulnerable and gullible.
It wasn’t until Lapre moved on to peddling a single miracle vitamin that could treat everything from heart disease to arthritis to insomnia to even cancer—basically a modern-day version of the old snake oil, magical cure-all elixir—that the authorities took notice. After receiving warnings from the FDA, Lapre was indicted for running a nationwide pyramid scheme built on worthless businesses. And after failing to show up in court to face that indictment, Lapre was arrested in June at an Arizona gym, where he had reportedly been living and hiding out for several days. According to the reports, Lapre had several self-inflicted “very deep cuts in his groin area,” having attempted to commit suicide by cutting his femoral artery. It seems as though he finally succeeded at killing himself while in jail (though authorities have yet to say how he did it).
Lapre’s business websites were all shut down several years ago, leaving only this farewell from his personal site, which now reads (perhaps intentionally) like a suicide note. On it, Lapre offers the benedictory messages “Enjoy Life” and “Never Stop Dreaming” (echoes of his positive-thinking style of pitching), and defends his business practices by saying he’s “been accused of something I did not do. I did not have the perfect company but never once did I allow one thing to be done that would violate any law. Nevertheless, because the majority of people did not make money, in spite of everyone of them being able to make as many $1000 checks as they wanted, I am left to fight a battle that will for sure destroy what energy I have left inside.” He ends by posting a photo collage of the children he’s now left behind.