“I had an apartment that was next door to the sorority house where Ted Bundy killed those girls,” Cramer says. “So I was the first reporter on the scene, and I ended up writing about it.”

He continued covering homicides for several years, both in Florida and later in California, at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. But, after a thief took everything out of his apartment one day — including his bed, leaving Cramer to spend four months sleeping in the back of his Ford Fairmont — he decided to give up reporting and go back to Harvard for a law degree.

After graduation, he landed in Goldman Sachs’s sales-and-trading department, and he worked his way up the company ladder until 1987, when he decided to venture out with his own hedge fund. Even then, though, the media still beckoned. He assisted Dow Jones during the launch of Smart Money and became a regular columnist to the magazine for several years. He also helped found American Lawyer, and, today, in addition to the daily column he writes for TheStreet.com, Cramer also contributes a weekly column­ to New York magazine. He’s the host of his own daily radio show, too, and has written three best-selling business books. Add to that his constant presence on CNBC well before Mad Money premiered, and it’s easy to see why Fortune once said that “everyone who trades stocks knows Cramer. In fact, no one who follows the market — traders, investors, business-magazine readers — can escape him. He’s everywhere.”

But Cramer wasn’t always happy with every place he ended up. Take Kudlow & Cramer, for instance. That show aired for four years on CNBC, but its focus on the intersection of business and politics, and its lineup of politico guests, didn’t mesh with Cramer’s totally outer limits, nut-bar behavior. In fact, cohost Larry Kudlow, an economist who is as buttoned-up as they come, was so different from Cramer, you wondered if CNBC put them together only for the sake of alliteration. “Kudlow & Cramer was not me,” Cramer says. “On that show, I had to suppress and contain, and my natural tendency is to not suppress and contain. Plus, it was about politics, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m scornful of politics. I don’t get the anger.”

Anger. It’s funny, because Cramer gets a lot of anger directed his way these days. From Internet bloggers to TV critics to investor advocates, a lot of people don’t seem to care much for Jim Cramer.

John Markese, president of the American Association of Individual Investors, has called Cramer “embarrassing” and even dubbed him “the financial Jerry Springer.” Elsewhere, Cramer’s stock-picking record has been challenged. The New York Post came up with its own nickname for Cramer — “the 46 Percent Kid” — after it tracked the three-month performance of 183 stocks that Cramer talked about in just one week of shows last spring. The Post found that of Cramer’s 98 buy or sell recommendations, 54 percent actually went the opposite direction of where Cramer suggested they would.