Infamous “balloon boy” hoaxer Richard Heene is at it again, hitting America right where it itches. The determined dad is trying to raise scratch for his wife and three sons by hawking his own “Bear Scratch” itching post in a YouTube commercial that makes him come across as an even more excitable version of late, leather-lunged pitchman Billy Mays.
The commercial comes with its own twangy, down-home theme song, catchy slogan (“If you itch like a son of a twitch”), but most of all, Heene himself. He’s a face familiar to America through the Oct. 15, 2009, “balloon boy” hoax in which Heene and his wife alerted authorities that their son Falcon had floated away in a silver weather balloon over the mountains and plains of Colorado.
The nation was transfixed as police and military helicopters chased the weather balloon, even causing Denver International Airport to shut down briefly. The family appeared on TODAY and other media outlets to express their relief that 6-year-old Falcon had actually been hiding in the house and wasn’t aboard the balloon.
But when questioned by Wolf Blitzer on CNN on why he was hiding, Falcon looked at his dad and said, “You told me we were doing this for a show.” Authorities pounced, sentencing Heene to 90 days in jail for false reporting. His wife, Mayumi, got 20 days for her part in the scheme, and the family was ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution.
Heene did his time and has since moved his family from Fort Collins, Colo., to Bradenton, Fla., but is still serving four years probation. Under its conditions, he is not allowed to capitalize on the “balloon boy” hoax for personal gain. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to let his notoriety go to waste.
Coming across as a “hyperactive huckster on a Red Bull drip,” according to the Denver Westward website, Heene promotes the notion of humans satisfying their itch much as bears do in the woods in his two-minute “Bear Scratch” commercial. And he tells potential customers that at $19.99 ($29.99 for two) for the yard-long, wall-mountable post, it blows away the traditional, seven-bucks-a-pop back scratcher.
“Check it out — when you walk into the woods, you don’t see a bear break off a branch and scratch his back; no, he uses the entire tree!” Heene bellows in his commercial. He then rubs his back up against the Bear Scratch post and goes into ecstasy. “Oh, God — now that is a back scratch, that is a back scratch!” One of his older sons (not Falcon) gets into the back-scratching action as well.
In one of the commercial’s most manic moments, Heene yells to his wife off camera, “Honey, I don’t need you anymore. I can do it myself!” as he rubs his back against the scratching post.
On his website, bearscratch.com, Heene comes across as wacky as ever, describing himself as an inventor whose creations are “geared to helping make life easier for people or to save human lives.” He writes that his family credo is “to live by the standards of ‘The Laws of Attraction’: By putting ‘good’ out into the electromagnetic shell of the earth, ‘good’ will come back.”
The Bear Scratch is only the latest in a long line of publicity and money-making stunts by Heene. The 49-year-old, who originally met his wife, a native of Japan, at a Hollywood acting school, had appeared twice on the TV reality series “Wife Swap” and was pitching his family as subjects for their own reality series at the time of the “balloon boy” hoax.