Pawn Stars continues to attract a devoted fan base who tune in to see more than just the crazy rare antiques brought into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. They truly love Chumlee, his predictably goofy behavior, and the hilarious banter that ensues. Yet though Chumlee may be the show’s resident clown, his life story is anything but predictable and funny.
It’s hard to imagine someone with as much wealth and fame as Pawn Stars lead Chumlee being anything besides successful. But growing up, this television star had a different reality before the road to fame. Born and raised in Henderson, Nevada, Chumlee never received a high school diploma, as he had dropped out.
Chumlee admitted to even paying other students to do his school work in an effort to pass his classes. Yet despite his troubles in school, Chumlee has reached great success in his adult life, raking in five figure deals for event appearances. What has been his path to such success?
The goofball on Pawn Stars may be known to the world as Chumlee, but he was born with the name Austin Lee Russell, on September 8, 1982. He was given the nickname at the age of 12 years old. Any guesses as to why?
Chumlee’s father nicknamed him as a reference to the animated round walrus from the ’60s cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. The moniker quickly caught on thanks to Chumlee’s elementary school friends. Today, it’s a part of his brand. But beyond the name, Chumlee’s childhood proved to influence a great deal of how his adult years would unfold.
To this day, Chumlee is best friends with one of his best childhood buds: none other than Corey Harrison himself. Sure enough, before they became television co-stars, Chumlee and Corey had long years of back and forth banter, just like what we see on the series.
As kids, the two used to hang out at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, which was opened on the Las Vegas Strip in 1989 by Corey’s father, Rick Harrison, and his grandfather, the late Richard “Old Man” Harrison. As a proclaimed honorary member of the family, Chumlee came to benefit from Corey’s friendship in ways he never could have imagined.
After hanging around Rick Harrison’s Gold & Silver Pawn Shop as kids, Chumlee and Corey eventually became its employees. Chumlee was only 21 years old when he began working behind the counter full-time. In this role, he wrote sales tickets and ensured that potential purchases were practical. And something else began: Chumlee’s shoe obsession.
When he first started working at the shop, he bought tons of valuable items that he wished to keep for himself. And so, his enviable original collection of Air Jordans and Nikes was born. But even though an opportunity to score rare finds at bargain prices would make anyone happy, Chumlee’s life after working at the pawn shop would prove to have its ups and downs.
Chumlee’s father, the one who first gave him his famous nickname, unfortunately lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in 2009 at the young age of 54. His death came just two weeks before his son’s hit reality TV series Pawn Stars first aired.
Illustrating his father’s importance to him, when asked if there was anything he wouldn’t be prepared to part with, Chumlee told Vegas Seven: “I would never pawn…the few items that my father, a master woodsman, has made.” While Pawn Stars clearly shows that Chumlee managed to sell or pawn just about anything following his father’s death, it also shows a less obvious impact that the tragic event had on the reality TV star’s personal life.
Starting at a very young age, Chumlee struggled with his weight. At his heaviest, the television star was well over three hundred pounds. His father’s passing actually had a positive impact on his health, showing that in the midst of tragedy, he could find a silver lining.
His father’s passing motivated Chumlee to completely change his lifestyle. He started incorporating exercise, clean eating, meditation, and mindfulness into his regular routine. As of 2019, he shed nearly 200 pounds, transforming before viewers’ eyes. Now, as such a prominent figure in the show, it’s hard to imagine Pawn Stars without him – but that was almost the case.
Back in its inception, the History Channel’s Pawn Stars was originally meant to feature only the Harrison family: Richard “the Old Man,” his son Rick, and Rick’s son Corey. Once potential participation opened up beyond family ties, Chumlee was up against 10 other employees to be featured.
It was Corey Harrison who managed to convince producers to choose Chumlee in the end. Chumlee said of the situation, “I thought to myself, well, I’ve known these guys my whole life. We have good camaraderie, and I’m just going to be funny and joke with them like we would normally do.” And joke around he did. Known as the clown of the show, his silly persona and detached attitude led to more than just laughs.
Playfully referred to by the Harrisons as their “village idiot,” Chumlee is often made fun of for his seeming lack of intelligence. And while the jokes are all made in good fun, some argue that Chumlee’s TV show blunders warrant all the jests. Chumlee isn’t a stranger to making mistakes on Pawn Stars.
According to Corey Harrison, Chumlee’s most costly blunder happened before the cameras started rolling. When someone pawned a stand-up bass, Chumlee leaned it against a shelf, and it shattered. After pawning it for $700, it wound up costing Gold & Silver a whopping $20,000! While this was a costly mistake, years later, an even greater error was made on Chumlee’s part by an outside source.
In May 2013, fake news spread like wildfire of Chumlee’s supposed death. It all started with an article that was posted on Internet Chronicle, which claimed the reality TV star had died of an overdose. Worse yet, the website even took it a step further.
They included fake reactions from a number of celebrities, including Rick Harrison. A year later, another article was posted on eBuzzd, alleging Chumlee had passed away from a heart attack. The two stories were completely fabricated. Obviously, fans were up in arms. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time Chumlee received negative press.
In 2016, Chumlee had a few run-ins with the law. After being accused of assault by one of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop’s employees, police obtained a search warrant for Chumlee’s home. Though there was inconclusive evidence for the case at hand, they discovered contraband.
The police uncovered illegal substances and 11 firearms (only four of which were registered). Chumlee was arrested. After taking a plea deal, he was placed on probation for 12 months. While 2016 proved to be a trying time for the reality TV star, he would at last find a light at the end of the tunnel.
Chumlee started dating current fiancée Olivia Rademann – whom he calls “my rock” – at the beginning of all the chaos that ensued in 2016. Though they met years prior, it took them some time to become official, with Chumlee eventually getting down on one knee in May 2018.
Chumlee asked the University of Nevada, Las Vegas student to marry him while in Hawaii, remarking to the Las Vegas Review Journal of the event, “I already feel like I’m married.” The two dream of starting a business empire together, given Chumlee has proven himself to be quite the businessman outside of his work on Pawn Stars. And it would look like that empire has begun.
Out of all the Pawn Stars cast – Rick Harrison, Corey Harrison, Chumlee (Austin Russell), and Richard Harrison – Chumlee became the first to launch his own line of merchandise. These days, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop makes most of its money off of Pawn Stars merchandise – despite having an inventory of more than 11,000 pawned antique items.
Their merch ranges through everything, from shot glasses to coffee mugs and t-shirts. Customers can even buy an autographed bobblehead of Chumlee for $400. Chumlee is so serious about his enterprise, in fact, that he sold half of his Gold & Silver shares to Rick Harrison for $155,000 in 2010, so that he could focus on this business venture. And he has a few more tricks up his sleeve.
Believe it or not, Chumlee is also a trained DJ. Not only did he actually attend DJing school, but he also has claims to have extensive experience practicing on turntables at home. During his first gig, he famously made headlines for requesting “Girl Scout cookies and hot chicks,” as reported by TMZ.
In a 2017 interview with Mobile Beat, Chumlee said his favorite music to mix is “hip hop mostly; old school and some top 40” and that his dream is to DJ at Las Vegas’ Hakkasan club. Though his DJ career took a rest after his 2016 arrest, ever the thinker, he has managed to find another lucrative side hustle.
Known for his childlike humor and for proving that he really is just a kid at heart, it’s only fitting that Chumlee opened up his own candy store. Adding it to his list of side hustles, Chumlee said, “Let’s face it, it’s been 13 seasons now. 460 episodes. It’s time to acknowledge the fact that Chumlee might be able to open up his own business by now.”
Named Chumlee’s Candy on the Blvd., he opened the store with his brother across from Gold & Silver. This has proven to be the perfect location. People can pop in and grab something to snack on while they wait in the pawn shop’s notoriously long line. It’s hard to believe how many daily visitors the shop attracts…and how many other facts about it you likely missed.
A decade ago, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop would have been lucky to see 4,000 customers walk through their door in a month. But those numbers have shifted unimaginably. Today, the pawn shop now welcomes that many customers on average in a single day!
Considering the shop’s collectibles, antiques, fine art, coins, and jewelry can rack up six-figure price tags, it’s no wonder most visitors flock to the store just to see it and buy some merchandise — and let’s be real, it’s mainly Chumlee’s. But to the dismay of many of the eager visitors, seeing the famous four at the store isn’t actually all that easy.
Given they’re now full-blown celebrities, the guys don’t actually work the counter anymore, as this would easily mean they’d always be bombarded with cameras in their faces from visitors. Beyond that, they’re often not in the store, as they also travel frequently to make guest appearances.
This means they leave hired assistants to do the work they used to do as normal employees. Fans are better off seeing the guys at the locations of their other businesses, like Chumlee’s candy store. But not working the front counter (as it’s shown in the show) is only one example of how what you see on TV isn’t always reality.
Pawn Stars is considered by many to be one of the more scripted series on television today. Is it that hard to believe that a store based on pawning – and that’s set in Las Vegas – would have elements that are fake? We’ll let you be the judges of that.
Apparently, before filming, customers are asked to complete a form about the item they’d like to bring in. The item is thoroughly researched, and even the price point is agreed upon ahead of time. Only after background check and polishing, the customer receives an invitation from producers to appear on the series with Chumlee and the others. Yet despite heavy screening, some pretty ridiculous things make it on the show to be pawned.
It’s amazing what people try and sell to strike rich these days. Just watch a few minutes of Pawn Stars and you’ll see what we mean. In one episode, someone tried to sell the driver’s license of the iconic Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Slash.
In another episode, someone apparently tried to pawn a one-man submarine and a collection of adult Japanese magazines dating back around 250 years. But when asked about the most bizarre items to come through the shop’s doors, Rick Harrison said, “Seven human skulls in a duffel bag come to mind.” Yikes. How could anyone pass up this show concept? Astonishingly, nearly everyone did.
Pawn Stars may now be the History Channel’s highest-rated television show and the second highest-rated reality series on TV, but getting a network to pick it up wasn’t an easy task for Rick Harrison. In fact, he spent years pitching its concept. Then, in the late 2000s, Leftfield Pictures took notice of all the pawn shops in Las Vegas.
When they found the Harrisons’ shop, they pitched the idea of a series to HBO, who passed. Finally, the History Channel took an interest, wanting to balance out their military content. Chumlee’s humor was a key ingredient providing stark contrast to the channel’s other programs. It helped make him a celebrity – almost as big as some of the ones who have appeared on the show.
A handful of celebrities have strolled on screen in the Pawn Stars series. These include Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott, A Day to Remember lead vocalist Jeremy McKinnon, and news anchor Katie Couric. But it doesn’t stop there.
When someone tried to pawn Steven Carell’s costume from his movie, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, the actor was asked to verify its authenticity. But the opportunity of a lifetime came when none other than Bob Dylan himself dropped in to sign an autograph. Though celebrity appearances definitely help boost ratings, production isn’t always good for the Gold & Silver Shop.
Whenever filming is done for a Pawn Stars episode, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop must temporarily close to the public. This means normal business is interrupted. This makes quite the paradox, and as shop manager Travis Benton says, “Sales can suffer because of the show.”
Filming is said to take place between two to five times a day, five days a week. Because they have to close the shop during filming time, much potential business goes down the drain. Luckily, Chumlee and the guys receive thousands of customers a day, so it doesn’t look like they’ll go bust anytime soon. The shop has even managed to stay afloat after troubles of a different nature.
In 2012, Wayne Jefferies, the original manager of the Pawn Stars series, sued Chumlee and his fellow cast members, as well as History and A+E Networks. It all traced back to bad blood that was created by a spin-off series called Cajun Pawn Stars.
He reportedly told TMZ that the famous four were blindsided by the spin-off, a statement that infuriated History and A+E Networks executives. Jefferies claimed he was then fired without being awarded his promised share of money after the show premiere. Though he fought for more than $5 million, the case was later dropped. And troubles were only beginning.
Two years later, in 2014, Chumlee and his Pawn Stars cast were sued once more. This time, it was for melting antique coins. The problem wasn’t the legality of melting the coins. There was a twist behind how the coins had arrived at the shop in the first place.
The coins had been stolen. The woman who pawned the collection had stolen it from her uncle, who then took actions to sue the shop. Law in Nevada says that pawn shops must hold onto new inventory for at least 30 days before selling it, in case the original buyer would like their item back. Luckily, this doesn’t apply to coins, so Chumlee and the guys were safe. But this case had an unfortunate precedent.
In 2009, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop had yet another incident of buying an item that had been stolen. When a man came in and pawned a pair of diamond earrings that were worth a staggering $40,000 (did they belong to the Queen or something?!), it took less than a day before the shop realized the jewelry had actually been stolen.
The victim eventually got her earrings back and the thief was thrown into jail, but the shop still lost that $40,000. Rick Harrison told NPR of the occurrence, “It’s the cost of doing business.” Luckily for the shop, no other problems arose from this situation and the show went on to experience great success.
In 2018, Pawn Stars celebrated its 500th episode with a set of Paul Revere’s own silver spoons and a suit from George Washington. And because of its immense success, the History Channel has even introduced a number of spin-off shows. Today, there are nine in total.
Pawn Stars has seen a grand total of 16 successful seasons. And, fans everywhere will be delighted to learn that as of June 2019, the series is set to renew for a 17th season. Under the series’ normal 30-minute episodes, the new series will have what’s equivalent to 80 episodes. But most exciting of all: they’re switching things up this time around and traveling across the globe to find interesting knick-knacks. As it would seem, Chumlee’s long journey just keeps unfolding.
Sources: Trend Chaser, Looper, Habit Tribe