UPDATED 04/28/11 8:30 a.m.
NORTHLAKE, Ill. (CBS) — The man who became an icon to Chicagoans as the Empire Carpet Man has died at the age of 89.
Elmer Lynn Hauldren was the pitchman for the Empire Carpet, now known as Empire Today, since 1977. He became every bit as familiar to Chicagoans as the famous jingle, “588-2300, Empire!” – with “800” added at the front in more recent years.
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The Evanston resident died Tuesday night, according to the company.
Hauldren worked with Empire until his death. He had most recently been doing voiceovers, and his Empire Man character had been transformed into an animated figure.
Hauldren was also a member of the vocal group that sang the “Empire” jingle, the company said.
Empire chief executive officer Steve Silvers says Hauldren’s legacy will live on,
“I think at this point, the decision is to continue using the caricature. I think that goes to his legacy and that brand that he created,” Silvers said.
Hauldren was also a decorated World War II veteran, whose service involved a journey that saved lives and made history.
In 2005, Hauldren told former CBS 2 reporter Jon Duncanson that as a 23-year-old radio operator, he volunteered to answer the call to deliver supplies to Chinese port cities starving from a Japanese naval blockade. The mission involved driving 150 truckloads over 1,500 miles down dusty trails from India down the Burma Road to China, and risking hits from enemy planes.
When Hauldren returned to China in 2005, he found that his service had not been forgotten.
“[We] Walked into the terminal. Here’s all these people cheering and flowers and television cameras and we thought there must be some bigwigs on the plane. Turned out we were the bigwigs,” he said.
Hauldren also gained notoriety as a barbershop quartet singer, and recorded several albums with his group Chordiac Arrest.
“Hauldren’s contribution to the brand was monumental,” Empire says.