Remember Crazy Eddie, the “Insaaane” Music Retailer?

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Jerry Carroll, the face of the ubiquitous Crazy Eddie ad campaigns, in a typical print pitch

If you lived in the New York City area—or in certain parts of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania—during the 1970s and ’80s, you knew one thing about Crazy Eddie even if you’d never set foot inside one of the retail chain’s 43 stores: His prices were “insaaaane!” Crazy Eddie’s late-night TV commercials, featuring a frenzied pitchman touting the stores’ low prices, were ubiquitous during the era and contributed significantly to the chain’s success—until it collapsed in bankruptcy and fraud.

When the ads were spoofed on Saturday Night Live, most people outside of the New York metropolitan area probably had no idea that they were based on a real ad campaign.

The founder of that chain, Eddie Antar, died September 10, 2016, at age 68. No cause of death was specified.

Although Crazy Eddie was named after Antar, he was not the public face of the company. The commercials featured a former radio DJ, Jerry Carroll, insisting that customers could not find lower prices anywhere for the TVs, VCRs, stereos and other electronics on their shopping lists. The phrase “Crazy Eddie, his prices are insaaaane!,” was inescapable from the inception of the campaign until its demise toward the end of the ’80s. For a time, Crazy Eddie was the largest electronics chain in New York City.

Watch a vintage Crazy Eddie TV commercial featuring Jerry Carroll

Antar started Crazy Eddie with a single store in Brooklyn in 1971, formerly known as Sight and Sound. He hired Carroll to read his ads in an over-the-top, hysterical manner, first on radio and then on TV, and they became as popular as the stores themselves. The chain basically took an age-old sales tactic and applied it to the burgeoning retail electronics market: Consumers were encouraged to shop around, note the prices of goods and then go to Crazy Eddie, which guaranteed to beat the lowest price.

The TV spots were so popular, Dan Aykroyd spoofed them as “Crazy Ernie” on SNL.

At its peak, Crazy Eddie was reportedly worth $300 million. The chain—and the commercials—thrived for nearly two decades, but in 1987 it all came crashing down. The government charged Antar with what was then the largest financial fraud scheme in history: the company was accused of falsifying its books, paying employees under the table and running a money laundering scheme, as well as other illegal activities. By falsely reporting the company’s profits and inflating Crazy Eddie’s stock value, Antar was making the chain seem more profitable than it actually was. The public perception of Crazy Eddie changed toward the negative by the late ’80s and the stock value plummeted drastically.

In September 1989, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Antar and other family members with securities fraud and illegal insider trading. He fled to Israel (where he had allegedly hidden some $50 million in skimmed cash) and was charged in absentia with federal racketeering conspiracy. He was extradited to the U.S. where he served trial and was convicted, but that verdict was overturned. Avoiding a second trial, after spending nearly a decade in the courts in total, Antar pleaded guilty in 1997, and this time was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was ordered to pay $150 million in fines plus more than $1 billion in judgments resulting from civil suits against the company. Only $120 million of the hidden money was recovered. Antar was released after two years in prison, retiring to Brooklyn.

The bankrupt, disgraced Crazy Eddie closed its doors in 1989. Others bought the trademark and attempted to revive the name but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Bonus video: Watch Crazy Eddie TV commercial bloopers. “Man, I ran out of gas…”

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