In the crowded genre of reality television, Pawn Stars‘ Richard “Old Man” Harrison emerged as a true individual. He didn’t worry one bit about acting like a conventional showbiz star or becoming someone else for the camera. Through it all, he only cared about running the best pawn shop in Vegas.
Nevertheless, the Old Man traversed a long and bumpy road on his way to becoming a household name. His life was full of intrigue from the moment he was born, and understandably he couldn’t recount all of his most dramatic and memorable adventures on TV!
Though he became one of the most recognizable TV personalities out there, the Old Man’s early days couldn’t have been farther from the spotlight. Still, there was something grandiose about him from the start.
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On March 4th, 1941, he was born Richard Benjamin Harrison Jr. His name was a nod to the two Harrisons who served in the White House. The Harrisons claimed to be direct descendants, though Richard himself never bought into this idea.
For one thing, the struggling family was far from presidential. Richard had to get a job as a North Carolina school bus driver at age 14 just to help his folks make ends meet. It wasn’t that bad, as he loved driving, but that passion also got him into trouble.
Reddit / notbob1959
Authorities busted Richard for stealing a car in the late 1950s. To avoid a prison sentence, he volunteered to join the U.S. Navy. It was a big step for the otherwise immature teen, though he had one other big adult choice to make before he shipped out.
The moment Richard set eyes on JoAnne Rhue at a barnyard dance, he fell head over heels in love. They soon decided to get married, even though Richard was due to start his first naval tour.
Ultimately, Richard served in the Navy for 20 years, reaching the rank of petty officer first class and doing a stint on the notable USS Chowanoc. JoAnne, meanwhile, became a real estate agent. But careers weren’t all the couple had on their minds.
The Harrisons decided to start a family. Their first daughter Sherry died at a young age, but they raised three younger boys. Richard’s gruff personality also earned him the nickname “Old Man” at age 38.
By 1981, however, Richard left the Navy, and JoAnne’s real estate business reached the brink of collapse. They needed to figure out a way to make a buck, and fast. The Old Man chose to uproot the family and move to the place where fortunes are made and lost.
In Las Vegas, Richard rented a 300-square-foot space and opened the Gold & Silver Coin Shop. Once he obtained a license to peddle secondhand goods, the Old Man expanded the venture to a full pawn shop, right off the Vegas strip.
At the Gold & Silver, the Old Man started to really come into his own. He learned to sniff out a good deal while steering clear of the scams. Most importantly, he made the shop into a family business by bringing in his son Rick as a partner.
Over the decades, the Harrisons built a steady clientele, people primarily in the market for jewelry and knick-knacks. Tourists and desperate gamblers alike visited their shop each day, but the Gold & Silver changed forever when two strangers stopped by…
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The men were TV execs looking to produce a reality show about colorful and seedy Vegas pawn shops. Realizing the Gold & Silver was a perfect fit, they launched Pawn Stars in 2009. It centered on the lives of the Old Man and Rick, plus Rick’s son Corey and his pal Chumlee.
Against all odds, Pawn Stars burst into one of the biggest reality programs in the world. Fans particularly took to Richard’s old-fashioned, no-nonsense persona. He even described his role on the show was just playing “a grumpy old bastard.”
By the same token, the Old Man wowed viewers with his pawning expertise. While Rick and the younger guys handled most of the deals, they brought on their wise patriarch to assess especially old or rare items.
YouTube / Pawn Stars
Although he never sought out fame, Richard enjoyed the show’s massive success. The lifelong car nut finally acquired the collection of vehicles he always wanted, including a restored 1966 Imperial Crown.
YouTube / Looper
After transforming the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop into a Las Vegas Landmark — with thousands of visitors per day — the Old Man also got awarded a key to the city in 2012. And that wasn’t even his biggest honor of the year.
Before long, TIME Magazine also nominated the Old Man and Rick to their list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Not too shabby for an almost broke sailor! Of course, Richard gave less than a warm welcome to some of the media attention.
Unfortunately, reporters caught wind of some Harrison family drama. In particular, they discovered the Old Man cut his youngest son Chris out of his will for personal differences. Richard fought off all their probes and questions.
News outlets also printed wild speculations about the Old Man making fewer appearances in later seasons of Pawn Stars. The Harrisons claimed their patriarch was just enjoying semi-retirement, but it turned out some of the rumors were on the money.
Behind the scenes, Richard was battling Parkinson’s Disease, and even a tough guy like him couldn’t hold out forever. The Old Man passed away in 2018 at the age of 77. The surviving Harrisons wondered about the best way to honor him.
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In the end, the other Pawn Stars figured that the Old Man would want the show and the shop to keep moving forward. Fans overwhelmingly supported their choice and paid tribute to the beloved founder of the Gold & Silver. They weren’t going anywhere, especially since his death wasn’t the series’ first dramatic real-life revelation…
Behind the scenes, the Pawn Stars guys know about every object that’s coming their way. The producers are heavily involved in choosing items, on top of just about every other “spontaneous” moment. That’s not the only little-known secret about the show either.
History / Scott Gries
When the Pawn Stars cast isn’t in the middle of production, they make a ton of money off their fans. Their store offers paid meet-and-greets as well as a VIP experience that takes you around Las Vegas and behind the scenes.
Gold and Silver Pawn Shop
Pawn Stars is a huge hit, so it’s no surprise that a ton of people stop by Gold & Silver. They average about 4,000 visitors per day and nearly 1.5 million across a whole year. On top of that, store manager Travis Benton figured only 1 out of 100 guests actually went there to do business.
Flickr / Wilson Hui
Although Gold & Silver remains a functioning pawn shop, they bring in more profits from show-related memorabilia than from actual sales. True to their mission, you can bet that the Pawn Stars are getting a nice deal for it all.
Even though the cast knows which items are coming in ahead of time, they do come across a lot of interesting stuff. Some of the weirdest wares to appear onscreen include a bag of human skulls, a collection of old Japanese erotica, and a one-man submarine. That’s way more exotic than your normal pawn shop inventory!
WireImage / Denise Truscello
When Rick bought a pair of diamond earrings for $40,000, he should have spent less time examining the jewels, and more time vetting the seller. As it turns out, the earrings were authentic but stolen. The thief blew through all the cash by the time police contained the situation, so Rick had to return the jewelry without compensation.
After a few successful seasons, Rick expanded his business interests by opening Pawn Plaza, a shopping center made out of repurposed shipping containers. Quite a few tenants went under, but the mall was still open as of 2018. Chumlee even owned a candy store inside!
Twitter / Ed McDonough
Stolen goods aren’t the only pitfall that costs the shop money. Chumlee once leaned against a stand-up bass they’d just bought, but it toppled over and broke. He tried to hide the damage by shoving the pieces inside the case, but of course, his colleagues found him out. The broken bass cost them $20,000.
It’s hard to believe now, but Chumlee originally wasn’t going to be on the show. The producers wanted to focus solely on the Harrison family, but then decided they needed a fourth cast member. As one of Corey’s longest friends and a great source of comic relief, Chumlee emerged as the top candidate.
In 2014, the shop landed in hot water after it purchased an antique coin collection from Jennifer Beckman and melted down its contents, only to discover that Beckman had stolen the coins from her uncle. He sued Gold & Silver for $50,000, though they denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
YouTube / ehowbeauty
Rick happily married Deanna Burditt in 2013, though Deanna’s previous marriage wasn’t nearly as sunny. Her former husband, also named Richard, was arrested for assaulting a student at the high school where he worked as a janitor. Richard avoided jail time for years as his trial dragged on, but as of 2018, he was behind bars.
Every now and again, a celebrity pops into an episode of Pawn Stars. Of course, these star-studded visits aren’t as spontaneous as they seem. Steve Carrell, for example, showed up with a costume from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and there’s no doubt he was only there to plug his upcoming movie.
Austin “Chumlee” Russell is perfectly affable on-camera, but he’s had some serious brushes with the law. In 2016, police raided his home in response to serious assault allegations, and they uncovered a huge stash of illegal weapons and drugs. Later that year, he pled guilty to multiple felony charges.
Each episode of Pawn Stars brings in experts to help appraise various items, and it seems as if each one is a personal friend of the store’s team. That’s not the case. In reality, the program’s producers seek out and hire all of these experts, many of whom appeared for free!
Stringer / David Becker
The crew brought in Olivia Black as a new cast member in Season 5, but then she suddenly vanished. Did The History Channel pawn her off? Not quite — after posing for a sexy photo shoot, producers pulled her from the family-friendly show.
The Pawn Stars team was sued by quite a few different parties, including their first agent. Wayne Jeffries claimed that he helped launch the show, but then the network almost immediately fired him and cut him out of the profits. The court later dismissed Jeffries’ case.
Only longtime fans noticed that Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison underwent a dramatic transformation. In 2014, he underwent lap band surgery, and the decision paid off. Big Hoss dropped just under 200 pounds, and he isn’t looking so big these days.
If you are among the many visitors to pass through Gold & Silver on any given day, don’t expect any of the show’s stars to actually be present in the shop. The Harrisons and Chumlee are so focused on the show itself that other employees handle most of the day-to-day operations.
Flickr / Jared
Have you ever noticed how often the Pawn Stars cast seems to eat at Subway? That’s because the sandwich chain is a big sponsor of the show. They return the favor by featuring frequent product placement. Some might call the guys sellouts, but you can’t deny that they know how to make a buck.