New York Lottery poster boys spent all their millions but remained friends
New York lottery winners Lewis Eisenberg and Curtis Sharp Jr have gone from rags to riches, and back to rags, over the past four decades.
But despite frittering away their millions on bad investments, casinos, alimony payments and luxury cars, the pair have managed to hold onto their friendship.
‘In the end, I’ve got him, he’s got me, but neither of us have any more money,’ Eisenberg, now aged 90, told the New York Post.
We’re in the money! Lewis ‘Lou’ Eisenberg and Curtis Sharp Jr emerged as celebrities in the early 1980s after they each won $5million from the New York Lottery just a year apart
Ladies’ man: Sharp made headlines in 1982 when he appeared at a lottery event accompanied by both his wife (right) and his girlfriend (left)
A friendship is born: Eisenberg (third from the left) met Sharp (second from the right) at a lottery event, and the two have been friends ever since
Eisenberg was 53 years old, living in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn and working as a light bulb changer when he won $5million from the New York Lottery in 1981 – a record amount at the time.
He quickly quit his $225-a-week job and went on to become a minor celebrity, with appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and at local events.
A year later, Eisenberg, now known by the moniker ‘Lucky Lou,’ was invited by New York Lottery officials to a jackpot party they were hosting in honor of the latest winner, Curtis Sharp Jr.
Sharp, then aged 44, also won $5million, becoming the first African-American to take home the top prize.
Back then Sharp was living in Newark, New Jersey, and working as a maintenance man with a weekly salary of $300 per week.
He made headlines when he arrived at the lottery celebration wearing his signature bowler hat, with his wife, Barbara, on one arm, and his girlfriend Jacqueline Bernabela on the other.
‘I liked him because he reminded me of me!’ Eisenberg said as he recalled seeing Sharp for the first time. ‘He was dressed to the nines and came in singing a song.’
Both Sharp and Eisenberg opted to receive monthly payments of about $240,000 and $200,000, respectively.
During their shared 15 minutes of fame, the two friends appeared in a handful of TV commercials and posters advertising the New York Lottery.
Dressed to the nines: At the height of their fame, the duo appeared in this famous commercial shot in the back of a limo
In one famous TV spot from 1985, the duo of winners are seen riding in the back of a stretch limousine and pulling up to a hot dog cart for a snack, with Sharp sticking his head out of the sun roof to tell the vendor not to be ‘stingy with the mustard.’
Eisenberg got to rub shoulders with A-listers like Tony Bennet and Oprah Winfrey, while his friend spent time with Andy Warhol and Dallas star Larry Hagman.
But even after the hype around them had died down, Sharp and Eisenberg continue meeting up and talking on the phone.
Besides being lottery winners, the pair had something else in common: both had a penchant for living large without thinking about the next day.
Eisenberg had a gambling habit that took him to Paris and Las Vegas. He was also settled with alimony payments from two divorces, which were eating away at his prize money. And when friends and neighbors came asking for cash, he was happy to oblige.
Sharp’s life mirrored that of his friend: multiple divorces, gambling, a taste for expensive cars and his largesse towards friends and charity organizations were quickly eroding his fortune.
Rise and fall: Sharp eventually spent all of his money and now lives in Tennessee and works as a minister
His first major purchase after hitting the jackpot was a 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood, for which he paid $60,000, he told the New York Daily News in 2009.
‘It came in, it went out,’ he said of his millions.
The reason Eisenberg and Sharp felt comfortable squandering their winnings was that neither one thought he would live into old age, so they did not bother saving anything for their retirement.
But they lived on. Their money, though, did not last.
After receiving his final instalment from the lottery in 2001, Eisenberg temporarily moved into a mobile home.
He currently lives in the Florida home of his late aunt and scrapes by on $1,800 a month in pension and Social Security payments.
Sharp, who is now 80 years old, lives in Antioch, Tennessee, where he serves as a Baptist preacher working with prison inmates.
After spending every dime of his windfall, Sharp has to make do with $2,600 a month. Despite his financial constraints, he still donates money to charity.
In an interview a few years ago, Sharp offered some words of wisdom to future lottery winners: ‘Get yourself a lawyer before a Cadillac.’
When Eisenberg turned 90 in April, Sharp traveled to Florida to celebrate with his friend and brought him the perfect gift: $15 worth of lottery tickets.
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Lottery Curse Victims: 7 People Who Won Big & Lost Everything
Riches-to-Rags Stories of ‘Cursed’ Lottery Winners
Many people think winning the lottery would be the answer to their prayers and the solution to all of their problems — but some winners have had the opposite experience. Despite being lucky enough to win the lottery, they later wished they’d torn up their ticket rather than redeeming it.
It may seem impossible that you could win millions of dollars and wish you hadn’t. But it’s happened often enough that the phenomenon has been dubbed the “lottery curse.”
Don’t believe it? Here are seven victims of the lottery curse — people whose “lucky” win turned sour, leading to divorce, bankruptcy, or even death.
These stories are cautionary tales, but there are plenty of jackpot winners who have gone on to put their money to good use for themselves and their communities. Read through to the end for tips on how to handle a jackpot responsibly and enjoy your winnings.
Jack Whittaker: “Since I Won the Lottery, There’s No Control for Greed”
Unlike many winners, Andrew “Jack” Whittaker was already wealthy when he won the largest jackpot ever awarded to a single Powerball ticket on Christmas morning in 2002. He chose a lump sum payment instead of an annuity, so he took home $113-some million from his $314.9 lottery ticket.
He added that to the money that he’d earned himself, working his way up from poverty to the owner of a West Virginia contracting company. When he bought the ticket, his company was doing about $15 million a year in contracts.
However, Jack Whittaker found his lottery winnings changed him more than the wealth he’d earned himself did.
Jack Whittaker did a lot of good with the money he won, setting up a charitable foundation, donating money to build churches in West Virginia, and even giving the woman who sold him the winning ticket a new house, a new car, and a pile of cash.
Nevertheless, the lottery curse hit him.
Not all states let winners stay anonymous, and Jack Whittaker’s win was widely publicized. He was deluged with people asking for money and favors.
He developed a habit of leaving large amounts of money in his car, which became widely known. One evening, when he was visiting a strip club, someone stole about half a million dollars out of his car. Later, in a separate incident, $100,000 was stolen from another car.
Furthermore, his company was hit with frivolous lawsuits from people who wanted to get access to deep pockets, costing him millions in legal fees.
Under the strain, Whittaker started to unravel. He started drinking hard and getting into fights. He’d get handsy with women and offer them money to sleep with him or take off their clothes for him.
But that’s, by far, not the worst of it.
He enjoyed spoiling his granddaughter, Brandi. He gave her a huge allowance and four cars, but his generosity backfired when her wealth attracted a bad crowd.
A boyfriend of Brandi’s died of an overdose in a house Whittaker was developing, and Brandi was implicated. Friends wouldn’t even let her attend the funeral.
A year later, Brandi was found dead under suspicious circumstances, though the case was never solved.
The deaths had devastating consequences for his family. His daughter, Brandi’s mother, was found dead seven years after the jackpot was won. Whittaker’s wife divorced him.
Whittaker lost the people he loved and the money that he won.
“Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed,” Jack Whittaker said. “I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
You can read more about Jack Whittaker’s story here: Powerball Winner Says He’s Cursed.
Six victims of the lottery curse: people whose 'lucky' lottery win led to divorce, bankruptcy, or even death.