St. Louis, MO – Li'l Penny Hardaway, who rose to fame in the early 1990’s as the diminutive television alter ego of then-Orlando Magic star Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, was found dead Tuesday in the decrepit bathroom of a notorious East St. Louis crack house.
Officials refuse to speculate cause of death, but sources say that the half-naked puppet was found in a bathroom stall, badly beaten and missing one of his arms.
Li’l Penny burst onto the national scene in the 1990’s with a series of Nike commercials created by the Portland-based Wieden & Kennedy advertising agency, coining such catchphrases as "Hey Tyra, you left your toothbrush at my house," "Could ya do that for a brotha?" and "You can't guard me! The Secret Service couldn't guard me!"
But as Big Penny Hardaway’s national spotlight began to fade after a trade from Orlando to the Phoenix Suns and a series of debilitating injuries, Li’l Penny’s life also began to unravel, and his off-camera troubles over the past decade were well documented.
In 1996 he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, and possession of a loaded weapon and a small amount of cocaine. In 1997 he was booked on assault charges stemming from an altercation with the Energizer Bunny at a Manhattan nightclub. And in 2000 he was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest, and assault with a deadly weapon after attacking talk show host Larry King (below), when King, during a segment titled Advertising Icons: Where Are They Now?, asked Li’l Penny whether former girlfriend Tyra Banks left him due to his out-of-control drug use.
After beating King nearly unconscious with his own desktop microphone, the raging Hardaway was finally subdued by the Wendy’s "Where’s the Beef?" Lady, Bob’s Big Boy, and several California Raisins.
He was later sentenced to 11 months in an upstate New York prison.
It was in prison, insiders say, that Li’l Penny’s drug addiction took a turn for the worse and he began a pattern of abuse and violent behavior that would haunt him up until his death.
"He called me almost every day to send him money, saying it was for his mother’s kidney operation," said Wieden & Kennedy creative director Stacy Wall, creator of the Li’l Penny commercials and formerly one of his closest friends. "But when I went to visit him, he was a mess – tracks up and down his arms, bruises. He was down to about 12 pounds. I knew he just wanted money for drugs. I told him no, and he went berserk, throwing his little plastic body against the glass, smashing the phone, just crazy. I never saw him alive again."
Wall added: "He went into prison a puppet and came out a monster."
Upon hearing of Li’l Penny’s violent death, Big Penny Hardaway refused to comment on his friend’s personal problems, but did confirm that he and Minnesota Timberwolves’ forward Kevin Garnett, who appeared in several of the Li’l Penny commercials, had been planning an intervention.
He also asked that people remember the "good Li’l Penny."
"Little dude had some problems, just like all of us," Hardaway said. "He got too rich, too famous, too soon, and couldn’t handle it. Listened to the wrong people. But I just know that he’s clean and sober in Heaven right now, saying ‘Hey God, is this couch real leather? ‘cause it’s sticking to my leg!"
geez guys so sorry after the signing to tell you this....lol