Tony Little is on sale! Limited time only! You won't find him in stores! Only on the Home Shopping Network! (And TonyLittle.com.) He's on the airliveright now, 3 P.M. EST, selling Tony Little pillows, which he calls pellows the way Midwesterners like Tony sometimes say melk instead of milk. He's jumping on a competitor's crummy down knockoff and dropping a bowling ball onto itTHUMP! That's right, the Tony Little pellow is superior in every way. For only $79.95, it stays cool, and you can sit on it and, get this . . . sleep on it! Check this out: He's put it on the floor and he's going to jump on itface-first! Do you think Tony Little would risk his famous mug on something ordinary? Come on, admit it! You want this pellow, just like the thousands of viewers who bought it in the seconds you just spent doubting him.
But waitTony Little is "America's Personal Trainer." What does he know about pillows? And bison meat? And the sandals that he sells? Step into his headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. Look at the framed pictures on the walls. There's Tony winning Mr. Florida as a bodybuilder in 1981. Tony with bikini models. Tony with Jay Leno, Tom Selleck, Chuck Norris. The Mr. Florida judges bought Tony. The hotties bought Tony. The celebs bought Tony. Even GEICO bought Tony, hijacking his trademark "You Can Do It!" motto in one of its spoof ads, which also featured the world-famous Gazelle workout machine that 6 million people have seen fit to own.
Pull up a chair in his private office. Admire the huge mahogany desk and the pictures of the goods he's sold: DVDs, audiobooks, T-shirts, calf massagers. All this could be yours. But hurry! Tony has to get back to the studio, because he's on the air again at six, after Emeril, and like he says, "You think Emeril is hitting his numbers? No way." Tony will gladly give you his numbers: $3 billion in retail sales, 45 million customers worldwide. "Tony Robbins has had one successful infomercial," he says. "I've had nine." GM can't sell motors, Linens'n Things can't sell linens, Circuit City can't sell circuits, but Tony Little can always sell Tony Little. In 2008, the worst financial year since the Great Depression, he moved more than $100 million in product.
Tony Little is little. Not tinyhe's got the pecs pushing against his shirt and the quads that can shove a piano down the hallbut not huge. He wears a cap pulled low, which makes him look younger than his 52 years, and a ponytail of stringy blondish hair. But he doesn't wear fancy clothes or shades. He's polite. He smiles easily. Bottom line: What Tony sells is his story, which sounds both too good and too bad to be true. His dad, an oil-refinery owner whom he calls "an asshole," abandoned him. His mother, a schoolteacher, shipped her unruly teenage son from Fremont, Ohio, to St. Petersburg to live with her brother in 1973. On the Gulf Coast, Tony made some friends in the bodybuilding community, and they helped him become Mr. Florida and a contender for Mr. America. He came within one point of beating eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. Then came the accident, the day in 1983 when the school bus hit his car and he herniated two disks and wrecked his knee. "I spent two years in and out of hospitals," he says. "I drank half-and-half for breakfast." But wait. There's more. He got a "bad spinal tap," suffered spinal meningitis, temporarily lost his eyesight, spent 18 more days in the hospital, got kicked in the nuts by a horse, spent two weeks on his back, inadvertently sat in some acid, went to a burn center, was hit by a lobster truck, and crashed his car into, he says, "the only hill in Florida," which cost him four reconstructive face surgeries.