Eddie Antar, Retailer and Felon Who Created Crazy Eddie, Dies at 68
Eddie Antar, the Brooklyn-born man who created the chain of Crazy Eddie electronics stores only to watch it collapse when an underlying fraud was exposed, died on Saturday. He was 68.
His death was confirmed by the Bloomfield-Cooper Jewish Chapels in Ocean Township, N.J., which did not say where he died or give the cause.
Mr. Antar, who was born on Dec. 18, 1947, grew his business from a single Brooklyn store, founded in 1969, into the largest consumer electronics chain in the New York metropolitan area, fueled in large part by the spread of the VCR. At its peak, the chain had 43 stores, with locations as far north as Boston and as far south as Philadelphia.
As it expanded, Crazy Eddie also became famous for a memorable series of commercials starring an exuberant, fast-talking man many falsely believed to be Mr. Antar himself.
The real star, a radio disc jockey named Jerry Carroll, performed in more than 7,500 radio and television commercials that ran for nearly 14 years, starting in 1975. The commercials always ended in the same way, with a signature touting of Crazy Eddie’s “in-s-a-a-a-a-ne” prices. The comedian Dan Aykroyd lampooned the advertisements on “Saturday Night Live.”
Mr. Antar took the business public at $8 a share in 1984. Within two years, its stock price hit $79 per share. At its peak, Crazy Eddie reported annual sales of more than $350 million.
But that success was illusory. In 1987, dissident stockholders staged a takeover of the company. Within two weeks of the acquisition, they said they had discovered that $45 million in merchandise was missing. At the same time, federal prosecutors were building a case against Mr. Antar, charging that he had defrauded shareholders through stock manipulation.
In the end, the authorities accused him and two brothers of skimming cash and inflating the value of the company. Even before going public, Mr. Antar would fly to Israel with cash strapped to his body as part of the skimming scheme, they said.
Mr. Antar fled the country in 1990. He was found and arrested in Israel two years later, then extradited to the United States.
Sam E. Antar, a cousin of Eddie’s, was the company’s chief financial officer. He pleaded guilty to fraud and testified against Eddie, describing how the company had inflated inventory and sales figures. He later became a consultant to government agencies investigating accounting fraud.
In a plea bargain, Eddie Antar pleaded guilty to one charge of racketeering conspiracy and served nearly seven years in federal prison. His brother, Mitchell, pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy and a count of making false statements and also served time in prison.
In 2001, Mr. Antar joined with some former associates to remake Crazy Eddie as an internet company, but the effort ultimately fell apart.
Despite its demise, the Crazy Eddie chain became an enduring symbol for bargain-basement retail. “Futurama,” the animated series about a New York City pizza deliveryman living a thousand years in the future, for example, features a car-dealing robot named “Malfunctioning Eddie” known for “insane” prices.
The crimes aside, Mr. Antar had his admirers. On Sunday, several people posted comments to a Facebook page for former Crazy Eddie employees acknowledging his flaws, while remembering him fondly.