It's hard to believe that "Pawn Stars" premiered over 14 years ago. Besides the unusual items that people sell, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop created a couple of lovable stars, too. One of these is Chumlee. He brings the banter and plays the clown, and people go crazy for it. However, most don't know about his life before the show—and where things went wrong. Pleading guilty to a felony weapons charge and attempted drug possession, let's dive into Chumlee's story...
Pawn Stars' Chumlee Has a More Complicated Off-Screen Life Than We ThoughtPublished 5 months ago
Of course, Chumlee wasn't the name the reality star originally got from his parents. When he was born in 1982, he was named Austin Lee Russell. It wasn't until twelve years later that he was given a nickname that would stick.
There was a 1960s cartoon called "Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales". In the show, there was a walrus that Austin's father thought reminded him of his son. It was an affectionate name but it quickly caught on among Chumlee's school friends. It was that name that he continued to use as his career in showbiz began.
When he was a little boy, Chumlee met another little boy who would come to be an important part of his life. Who was that? None other than Corey Harrison, Chumlee's future partner and co-star. It was their solid banter that made "Pawn Stars" what it is today, and none of that is practiced, that is exactly how they are in real life.
The two boys used to hang around at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It originally opened on the Las Vegas Strip in 1989. The two men behind it then were Corey’s father, Rick Harrison, and his grandfather, the late Richard “Old Man” Harrison. The Harrisons never minded Chumlee hanging around and in fact, have welcomed him as an unofficial member of their family. This has brought a lot of good luck to Chumlee.
It turned out that hanging out at the shop would stand to the Chumlee and Corey. They were offered jobs there when they had grown up. At 21, Chumlee took his place behind the counter. He had responsibilities writing sales tickets and checking out potential purchases to ensure that they made practical sense. What he didn't realize would happen was that he'd want certain items all for himself.
There were particular items that Chumlee had his eye on: trainers. Not just any trainers in fact, but Nike and Air Jordan. He started building a collection and he was in a great position to pick up bargains where some others may not have been. This collection gave him much joy. However, like anyone, life brought some low points too.
Only two weeks before "Pawn Stars" first aired, Chumlee's dad sadly passed away. He had suffered from pancreatic cancer and lost the fight at only 54 years old. Unsurprisingly, this shook Chumlee right to his foundations.
Chumlee has spoken of his loss on the show. When asked if there was anything that he wouldn't pawn himself, he explained that there were items his father made from wood that he would never, ever part with. He may be talented behind the counter of the pawnshop but some things are sentimental. His father's death also made him make some changes in his life.
He nearly hadn't been in the series at all! When the show was conceived, it was built around the Harrison family. Richard "the Old Man", his son Rick and his grandson Corey. Other people weren't initially considered. When it was suggested to bring in other staff members, there were ten to consider and Chumlee was just one of those.
Of course, Corey came to Chumlee's support and worked on the producers to choose Chumlee. He must have been a stand out anyway, with his sense of humor. Chumlee didn't take it all too seriously at the time, he thought he'd simply be himself and joke around with the others like he always did. That led to him becoming the clown of the show. However, it also led to some things that weren't quite so funny.
Now he's achieved a certain level of fame, money comes with that. But it's probably not the life he imagined when he was growing up. He grew up in Henderson, Nevada. He wasn't great at school and found it hard to keep going to class, so he simply decided to drop out.
He really disliked school work so much that he once paid other people to do his for him! It just shows that not everyone has to go the respected route of getting a high school diploma and a steady job. Chumlee now gets paid huge chunks of money for one of the appearances. So, how did it all start for him?
The Harrisons always make jokes at Chumlee's expense but he seems to let it run off his back. It's probably not a lack of intelligence but Chumlee has been known to make some mistakes. Not all of these can be laughed off so easily!
Before "Pawn Stars" was even on air, Chumlee had made a couple of blunders, according to Corey. One time a customer came in to pawn a stand-up bass, which they gave the guy $700 for. Moments later, Chumlee put it leaning against a shelf, which couldn't sustain its weight. That ended up costing $20,000 to fix! It's surprising that Chumlee didn't lose his job over this, but somehow the Harrison's understood.
An article posted on Internet Chronicle in May 2013 took fans of "Pawn Stars" by surprise. It stated that Chumlee had died of an overdose. The site didn't even stop there.
There were reactions from a number of people close to Chumlee, such as Rick Harrison, but these had all been completely made up. The following year, eBuzzd, possibly starved of traffic, cooked up a similar story, saying Chumlee had died of a heart attack. These were pretty upsetting for all concerned but thankfully they hadn't an ounce of truth in them. The negative press wasn't quite over for poor Chumlee though.
2016 wasn't a great year for Chumlee, especially when the boys in blue came knocking. One of the employees at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop alleged that Chumlee had assaulted her and suggested that illegal items may be found in his home. The police arrived at his home with a search warrant and what they found shocked some fans of the show.
Both methamphetamine and marijuana were discovered and Chumlee also had 11 firearms, but only four of them had been registered. This led to his arrest. He took a plea deal and had to undergo probation for a whole year. It was a dark time for the TV star but something good actually came out of that horrible year.
Chumlee met Olivia Rademann a few years before they started dating but in 2016 decided to bite the bullet and become a proper couple. Unfortunately, the timing wasn't great, with everything else that was going on in Chumlee's life at that time. However, Olivia stood by him and in May 2018, Chumlee proposed to her, the woman he calls his "rock".
University of Nevada student, Olivia, was on holiday in Hawaii with Chumlee when he popped the question. He told the media afterwards that he already felt like he was married. They have plans to start their own business when Olivia finishes her studies. After all, Chumlee has proven to the world that he has what it takes.
The three Harrison's - Rick, Corey, and Richard have all made a great career out of "Pawn Stars" but they haven't gone one step further like Chumlee, who has launched his own range of merchandise on the back of the series. The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop makes more money off "Pawn Stars" merchandise these days than their inventory of antique items, which stands at over 11,000, so it makes sense to capitalize on that success.
Merchandise ranges from t-shirts to plates to mugs. Those who love Chumlee can even pick up their very own bobblehead version with his autograph for the tidy sum of $400. Chumlee is focused on his own line to the extent that he sold half his shares in the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. In 2010, Rick Harrison bought half Chumlee's shares for $155,000. Was that a daft move so early on in the series? Probably not.
Fans were stunned when they saw the new Chumlee. He lost 160 lb (73 kg), and revealed that he was almost 350 ln (160 kg) in 2019 and that's when he decided he had enough. Chumlee said, in an interview for PEOPLE, that he lost almost 100 pounds by "eliminating all processed foods" and then undergoing gastric bypass surgery.
"It was time for me to get healthy," he said. "I started at 320 [pounds] and now I'm down to 225." Chumlee also said that from now his motto is "everything in moderation." He recently captioned a selfie in the gym "Live your life be kind spread love and live for your elf."
Not many people around the world know that Chumlee is actually a trained DJ. That's right, he actually studied to be a DJ. He has turntables at home, which he says he spins tracks on regularly. For his first big gig, he had an interesting rider, asking for Girl Scout cookies and hot chicks.
Various media interviews have questioned Chumlee on his preferred music genre and it seems he likes things old school. He is also partial to a bit of hip hop and he'll even throw in some top 40 if you ask him nicely. HE hasn't DJ'd much since 2016, as his arrest put a bit of a dent in his live appearances but that hasn't stopped the enterprising Chumlee from finding other ways to earn money.
Chumlee has always been a fan of sweet things and now everyone knows that he's really just a big kid deep down. So, it's no surprise that he decided to open his own candy store. After 13 seasons of "Pawn Shop", Chumlee said that although he hasn't left the show, it was time for him to pursue his own business too.
The store is a joint pursuit between Chumlee and his younger brother, Sage Russell. It's situated right across the road from the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop so that probably makes working between the two rather easy. It also brings in good business for him, as people can pop into Chumlee’s Candy on the Blvd. to grab something sweet while they wait in the long queue outside the pawnshop. The store is wildly successful, with thousands of people visiting daily.
Before "Pawn Stars" began, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop would have been delighted if they had 4,000 people through their doors in a month. However, the TV show has escalated the popularity of the store and it's employees more than anyone could imagine. Now, around 4,000 people visit the shop every single day! So, it's hardly surprising the queues are long.
Some come to see the antiques, coins, fine art, and collectibles that the store has - after all, there's a lot to be flogged in a gambling city and some things are worth six figures! However, many people just pick up some of the "Pawn Stars" merchandise and hope for a glimpse of Chumlee. To many people's disappointment, seeing him, or indeed any of the Harrison's is quite a rare occurrence these days.
It's not usual to see any of the famous four working the counter of the store on a normal day anymore as this would simply get in the way of the business. As the guys started to get more famous, there were too many people coming in for autographs and taking photos. They could do that all day and never get a thing done! All four also have to travel a lot these days as they make guest appearances in other places.
So, visitors are often confronted by employees that they have never seen before. They can pick up some merchandise and see the shop, but they would be better off going to one of the cast's appearances elsewhere to really get a look at them. So, what you see on the show doesn't always reflect real life.
Most people think reality shows are just that - reality. However, many people have learned that "Pawn Stars" is actually quite scripted. Sure, the show is set in a real pawnshop and the stars are the original owners of it but there are elements that aren't exactly as you see on screen.
For instance, customers complete a form about the item that they'd like to bring in before the show is filmed. That item is researched fully and even a price point is discussed before the show. The customer is checked and if everything is ok, they are then invited on the show. So, it's not as straightforward as it looks. That doesn't mean that some crazy items don't make it on the show though.
One of the things that make "Pawn Stars" so interesting is that people will try and pawn all manner of weird items in a bid to make some cash. Who can forget the Civil Rights Movement Potato? There was also the time someone asked for a pile of cash for a driver's license belonging to Slash. Bro, I think he may need that back.
Rick Harrison is happy to reel off the list of weird items that have come through the doors. Top of his list is the Japanese adult entertainment collection that dates back 250 years! These erotic paintings depicted 12 different sexual acts. There's a market for that. What has he refused? Seven human skulls in a duffel bag. Why? Well, aside from the creepy factor, he didn't think there would be a huge demand for them.
Now, it's the highest-rated show on the History Channel. However, when Rick Harrison pitched the idea for the show, most networks completely ignored him. It wasn't until the late 2000's that Leftfield Pictures had a look at all the pawn shops in Las Vegas. Rick was finally in luck.
The series was pitched to HBO but they didn't want it. The History Channel was looking for something as a balance for their military content. It turned out that Chumlee's humor would be a key ingredient, and make a huge star out of him. In fact, he's now almost as big as some star names who have appeared on "Pawn Stars".
Many celebrities love the show and have been happy to pop in. Vocalist Jeremy McKinnon, news anchor Katie Couric, and TV host, George Stephanopoulos have all appeared on the show. So too have Def Leppard members, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen.
Sometimes the guys have to determine whether an item is real or not, which is why they contacted Steve Carrell to see if the costume from his movie "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" was actually up for sale. Bob Dylan once came into the store himself to sign an autograph. Of course, when a celebrity drops by, the ratings rocket. However, the show affects the shop in some other ways.
When a show is being filmed, the shop actually closes to the public. This is one of the things that the audience doesn't see. So, normal people wanting to pawn their goods might go elsewhere with their booty. The shop manager, Travis Benton, has said that sales can actually suffer because of the show.
This is pretty ironic. Given that filming is carried out five days a week, this means that a lot of potential business is lost. However, the guys think it balances out, as so many people come to the store anyway. It's unlikely to be shutting down in the foreseeable future. Troubles of a different sort have plagued the shop though.
The original manager of the "Pawn Stars" series, Wayne Jeffries, sued the Harrison's and Chumlee in 2012. He also took a case against the History Channel and A+E Networks. The guy had beef. Why? It was all down to a spin-off series called "Cajun Pawn Stars".
Jeffries had been fired from the show and network because he made false statements to TMZ. He wasn't given the share he had been promised after the show premiered either. He took everyone to court in the hopes of gaining $5 million but the case was dropped. More legal battles ensued for the "Pawn Stars" crew though.
In 2014, the cast was again issued with legal papers. This was in regards to melting some antique coins, not a problem in itself as it's legal, but where the coins had originated from wasn't quite so clear.
The woman who had brought the coins in had stolen them from her uncle. He decided to sue the store. Nevada law states that pawnshops should hold onto any items for at least 30 days before they can be sold on. The reason behind this is so that the original owner can get them back if they choose. The coins had been melted so he couldn't get them back. The "Pawn Stars" guys got lucky as the law doesn't apply to coins. However, this wasn't the first time stolen goods came into the store.
Before "Pawn Stars" took to the air in 2009, they had another incident where someone tried to pawn pilfered goods. A man came into the shop and pawned a pair of earrings worth $40,000 and the guys at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop didn't realize for about 24 hours. The diamond earrings were real enough, but the guy had stolen them.
This had a happy ending for the victim of the theft, as she got her money back. The thief went to jail. The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop wasn't so lucky, as they lost $40,000! Rick Harrison took it in his stride, saying that was sometimes the cost of doing business. At least they've made the money back in other ways.
Chumlee had always been a little on the heavy side, ever since he was a little boy. When he reached adulthood, he tipped the scales at over 300 pounds. Anyone could see that this would have a bad effect on his health. It was actually his father's death that changed that.
His father's illness and subsequent death prompted Chumlee to take a look at his own health. He decided to change his diet completely. Now it was all about clean eating and living more healthily. He also began exercising and practicing mindfulness and meditation. After undergoing gastric sleeve surgery, Chumlee lost almost 200 pounds. This was achieved partly due to doctors removing a portion of his stomach.
The 500th episode of "Pawn Stars" aired on Monday 22 January 2018. It was a special one, featuring silver spoons belonging to Paul Revere and a suit once owned by George Washington. The show is so popular that the History Channel now has nine spin-off shows from it.
16 seasons later, fans are still keen to see what happens in "Pawn Stars". Season 17 was announced in June 2019 and will air in October. 40 new episodes will fulfill the longing of those eager to see what happens next. This time, the four guys are taking to the road to see what they can find. So, Chumlee will return to screens with his particular brand of humor while looking at unusual knick-knacks around the world.