The Spectacle Blog

Bill Porter, R.I.P.

By on 12.7.13 | 4:19PM

Bill Porter, who spent more than five decades as a door to door salesman in Portland, Oregon, passed away on December 4th following a brief illness. He was 81.

Porter, you see, was born with cerebal palsy. He was mistakenly considered mentally retarded and was told he would never work for a living. The best he could hope for was to live off a disability check.

However, neither Porter nor his mother Irene would take no for an answer. His late father had been a salesman and wanted to follow in his footsteps even if the path there would be difficult. In 1955, Porter applied for a job with the J.R. Watkins Company which sells various household products. They initially turned him down, but reconsidered after he offered to take on the company’s worst route.

In 1995, Porter came to public attention through a story written by Tom Hallman, Jr. of the Oregonian. The response to Hallman’s piece about Porter was such that it was reprinted in Reader’s Digest. Porter would later become the subject of a profile on ABC’s 20/20 and, in 2002, was the subject of a TV movie Door to Door which starred William H. Macy as Porter. Helen Mirren played his mother while Kyra Sedgwick played Shelly Brady, who spent many years as his Porter's assistant. Here is what Hallman has written in the wake of Porter's passing.

In a time when this country is being steered towards dependency, Bill Porter serves as a reminder of America’s can-do spirit. It wasn’t easy path to walk to be sure. Aside from dealing with physical limitations, the very nature of sales is such that failure is a far more frequent companion than success. The fear of failure can — for lack of a better word — cripple even the strongest amongst us. His desire and determination overcame these deterrents. He didn’t become wealthy, but he made a living doing what he wanted to do. Bill Porter lived the American Dream and did so on his own terms.

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