ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Anthony Sullivan’s face, voice and enthusiasm are instantly recognizable to insomniacs and TV addicts nationwide.
For more than 20 years, the English-born Pinellas County resident has pitched products, from OxiClean and the Smart Chopper to the EZ Stringer and the Frork (?!), with the energy of an evangelical. Since beginning his career at Home Shopping Network in the mid-’90s, Sullivan has become a cult celebrity, as familiar to folks who spent their grunge years in smoke-choked college dorm rooms as he is to retirees who still buy their collectibles by calling a 1-800 number.
What You Need To Know
- OxiClean pitchman Anthony Sullivan started a CBD company by becoming a hemp farmer
- He was inspired after his daughter responded well to CBD for her condition
- Reality TV series 'Kings of Kush' follows his first foray into planting and harvesting hemp
He’s branched out over the years, forming his own production company and creating ads for such household-name brands as Nutrisystem and Arm & Hammer. His newest venture, however, might have even those who think he could sell anything scratching their heads.
“I found myself standing in the middle of a friend’s hemp field in Vermont, and I had this epiphany,” says the 52-year-old. “I just said to myself, ‘for the next project I do in my life, I want to become a hemp farmer.' I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
But Sullivan didn’t just jump from TV pitchman to growing the main ingredient in CBD products without a little inspiration. His daughter Devon, now 10, was born with a rare genetic disorder similar to severe autism that made her dependent upon multiple therapies. As she grew, seizures became a problem, and the prescribed medication came with heartbreaking side effects.
“You take some medications and you know, you just kind of read about the possible side effects” Sullivan said. “Well, she experienced all the worst side effects. She lost 20% of her body weight. Her friends at school had to make her a little bed in the classroom because she’d fall asleep. Her skin turned ashen.”
Worst of all, Sullivan says, “her personality vanished.”
He and Devon’s mother, a clinical psychologist, began looking for alternative therapies and, though its effectiveness is still a hotly debated topic in medical circles, decided to give cannabidiol – CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis and derived from the hemp plant – a try.
“Over time, we weaned her off the pharmaceutical and replaced it with CBD and a plant-based regimen,” Sullivan said. “And it was a win.”
Galvanized by the improvement he saw in his daughter, Sullivan decided to share the possibilities with the world. In 2019, together with partner Dave Christian (whom Sullivan met more than 20 years ago on the USA Network’s reality competition Eco-Challenge), he bought 116 acres of land in Plainfield, Vermont and 66,000 hemp seeds. And, with no experience in the field, so to speak, he set to work.
The resulting company, MONTKUSH, offers a variety of CBD products and touts a special pressing process (they refer to their product as “fresh squeezed”) that Sullivan claims retains more of the compound’s essential components and purity than other, chemically-assisted extraction methods.
The project also yielded another product that might also be described as a pitchman’s dream: a TV show.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is going to be entertaining,’” says Sullivan. “Two guys with no farming experience going and attempting to grow a giant amount of anything, it’s going to have its problems and challenges and moments of humor and despair. We went head-to-head with Mother Nature.”
They self-financed the shoot, filming from the get-go as Sullivan and Christian dove headfirst into the new world of hemp cultivation. Nearly two years later, with some help from powerhouse reality-TV producer Thom Beers (Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars, Ice Road Truckers) 10 episodes of Kings of Kush began airing this month on the reliably progressive Vice cable network.
As Sullivan had hoped, Kings of Kush captures the humor and humanity of a couple of guys who don’t know what they’re doing, but are determined to do it, and do it well, anyway. The show follows the MONTKUSH crew as it battles mud, rocks, broken equipment, unexpected weather and, most importantly, inexperience in the name of getting its first crop into, and then out of, the ground. Local farmers alternately lend a helping hand and look on in disbelief as Sullivan and Christian stumble their way through from planting to harvest, learning as they go and both testing and strengthening the bonds of their friendship.
“There’s an element of excitement and tension because you’re trying to decide what to do,” Sullivan says. “And there was an element of absolute terror, like, we’re gonna screw this up.”
Plainfield, Vermont is a long way for Clearwater Beach, where Sullivan slept in his van when he first came to Florida a quarter of a century ago. And he’s proud of all he’s accomplished, from his success as a pitchman to his current turn on TV. But there’s something special, and personal, for him about building MONTKUSH from the ground up, and sharing it with the world.
“I said, ‘I’m going to grow this, this is the plot,’” he says. “This medicine is helping my little girl.”
Kings of Kush airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on the Vice channel.