If you lived in the New York metropolitan area during the 1970s and 1980s and had your TV on for even a short time, the odds are pretty strong that you would have been bombarded with some of the most annoying — yet somehow memorable — commercials imaginable, all for the Crazy Eddie electronics chain who proclaimed that their prices were insane!
A dopey looking guy wearing a cheesy cape and crown played Crazy Eddie, whose insanity was based, presumably, on his willingness to practically give away electronic equipment. (You may have seen these commercials lampooned on a Seinfeld episode, where Elaine was dating the actor playing the crowned maniac.)
Meet Crazy Eddie
In reality, there were two sides to Crazy Eddie: the guy on screen who would wear bizarre costumes and speak at a rapid-fire clip, one of the most “memorable” featuring him dressed as a chicken and doing the entire commercial in … uh … chickenese. Weird. That guy was actually DJ Jerry Carroll from New York radio station WPIX-FM, who, in 1972, did a live spot for the company and concluded it by stating, in a frenetic way, that “his prices are insane.” Well, that went over so well that Carroll was brought to television for all of those commercials. By the 1980s, more than 7,500 different spots for radio and television were produced with the vast majority of people believing that Carroll was actually Crazy Eddie.
“I never wanted that,” Carroll related to the New York Times. “To me, I was always Jerry and he was always Eddie.” As to getting the gig, he noted, “He heard me reading the live copy and he said, ‘I wish all my commercials could sound like that.’ Somebody said, ‘Well, they can. Why don’t you seek out Jerry?'”
And then there was the true Crazy Eddie, whose actual name was Eddie Antar. He’s the guy who built his business into a chain of, at its peak, 43 stores with a reported $300 million in sales — helped in no small way by those commercials which somehow connected with viewers. What those people had no idea of was the fact that right from the beginning, Antar and his partners falsified their records to make it seem as though they had pulled in less money than they did. On top of that, many employees were paid off the books and cash was constantly being skimmed off the top before anything was reported to the government. Reports are that each year they skimmed $3 to $4 million.
Not surprisingly, the bottom — due to those scams listed above and many others — eventually fell out. By the end of 1989, all of the stores were closed and Antar had declared bankruptcy. He was also charged by the SEC with securities fraud and illegal insider trading. Antar, who had been ordered by the court to repatriate more than $50 million he had illegally sent to banks in Israel, actually fled to that country to avoid prosecution. It didn’t work. In June 1992 he was extradited to the U.S. and charged with federal racketeering conspiracy charges. By 1996 he was sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay over $150 million in fines.
Following his time in prison, Antar desperately tried to start one electronics effort after another, but ultimately they all failed. On September 10, 2016, he died at the age of 68, reportedly having been battling liver cancer. But looking back at all of it, the entire story of Eddie Antar — forget about his prices — was insane.