Pawn Stars fans were caught by surprise when series star Austin Lee “Chumlee” Russell was arrested for drug and weapon possession as part of an ongoing sexual assault investigation. The truth is, we never really know the people we like seeing on TV. Time to put the hawking on hold as we look at the untold truth about the cast of Pawn Stars.
In May of 2016, Austin “Chumlee” Russell landed a plea deal for charges he received after police raided his home in connection with the investigation of a sex assault case. Though he never faced any sex assault charges, according to TMZ, police found marijuana, meth, Xanax, and eight firearms not registered to Chumlee during a raid of his “Chum Chum Room,” which is his “party spot” complete with a stripper pole. But the Pawn Stars regular’s lawyers were able to negotiate down to just two charges: felony possession of a firearm and felony possession of a controlled substance, both of which “will eventually become misdemeanors once he completes probation.”
And it’s not the first time Chumlee has been involved in some shadiness since becoming a reality star. In 2012, cameras captured Chumlee in a brawl with an unidentified man who approached him and a group of friends while they were hanging out on Hollywood Boulevard. He later insisted he was fighting in self-defense, and that the man was a stranger who asked for a ride and then threatened the group with a gun. It’s unclear what happened to the man who was beaten and badly bleeding when Chumlee and his friends fled the scene, but it’s probably a good guess that he didn’t get an invite to the “Chum Chum Room.”
Over the years, Rick Harrison, the co-owner of the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, has seen all kinds of weird items come and go. And when asked in multiple interviews about the oddest items anyone has ever brought into his shop to sell, Harrison usually answers, “Japanese porn.” Two-hundred-year-old Japanese porn, specifically. “It’s all hand-painted. It’s on a scroll down to every bodily fluid. Everything’s really exaggerated. It’s sort of creepy and then after I bought it, I realized my mother comes into the pawn shop so I couldn’t display it out there,” Harrison told Heavy.
A guy also once walked into the shop looking to sell a bunch of human skulls. According to GSPawn.com, the guy claimed he bought them from an auction at a dental school, but unsurprisingly, he did not get an offer from Harrison. In all honesty, though, if a couple of skulls and some porn are the strangest things to come through the doors of his Vegas pawn show, it sounds like Harrison’s kind of gotten off easy.
Given that attempting to film the actual day-to-day life at a pawn shop would result in some pretty boring television, it should come as no surprise that the items you see brought into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop on the show have been vetted beforehand. Granted, this doesn’t mean that the items are plants from producers. In fact, longtime shop manager Travis Benton told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his brokers “spot unique items and show them to producers who decide if they are worthy of broadcasting.”
Another shop employee, Rocco Landi, said, “Once an item is deemed ‘possible TV material,’ its seller is coached on how to act while on camera. Some people have a great item to sell, but they appear nervous on film. It can take several tries to get it right, depending on the person. … Producers have cut items from the show because the seller could not ‘pull it together’ on camera, but it doesn’t happen often.”
Executive producer Brent Montgomery even admitted that the staging goes a little bit further than that. In an interview with Odyssey, Montgomery said that they have “really smart scripters to feed the characters organic information,” and that he’s coached the guys on buying stuff they wouldn’t otherwise go for if they weren’t doing the show. He also said the production team pre-negotiates pricing with the potential sellers off-camera “to make sure that these people will actually sell the stuff at a reasonable price, otherwise, they’re just trying to be on TV.” That’s understandable to a certain extent, but it definitely sheds a new light on Harrison’s infamous — and regularly parodied — negotiation tactics.
The World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is actually managed by Travis Benton, not Rick Harrison or The Old Man. But they do actually shoot the show in the store, only privately and with customers who sign releases and agree to be extras. This sometimes causes issues for Benton and the other sellers on the floor, but more on that in a minute.
According to Starcasm, part of the reason the Pawn Stars crew isn’t readily available to the public is due to “Nevada’s privacy laws,” specifically in regards to the fact that shop patrons would constantly be trying to take photos and videos of the reality stars which could “violate the privacy of others in the shop by accidentally taking a shot of them.” And that makes a lot of sense when you think about it, because something tells us “seven skulls in a duffel bag” guy probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to accidentally appear on some Vegas vacationer’s Instagram, let alone a hit TV show.
After Harrison wed legal worker Deanna Burditt in 2013, tabloids reported that the lovebirds were embroiled in a legal battle involving Burditt’s ex-husband, Richard Burditt, who was free on bail while awaiting trial for a variety of sex-related charges. Not surprisingly, Harrison didn’t have great things to say about his wife’s ex, or “all the bureaucracy” of the legal system that he felt took too long to bring Burditt to justice.
Speaking with Glenn Beck on his radio show (via The Blaze), Harrison claimed that Burditt plead guilty to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl but had his sentencing delayed for four years while he awaited “his psycho-sexual evaluation.” Harrison continued, “It’s the insanity of our legal system,” adding “[Burditt] would’ve spent more time in jail if he got a DUI.” Burditt was eventually sentenced to 1 to 15 years in prison for his offenses, which included “forcible sex abuse and third-degree felony dealing in harmful materials to a minor.”
Pawn Stars cast member Olivia Black lost her gig on the show after nude photos of her surfaced, exposing her previous career as a model for SuicideGirls.com. She later revealed that she was still an employee of the store, as she was really only “fired” in front of the cameras. Harrison confirmed the details of the scandal to Fox News, saying, “I never fired her. She’s out doing her own thing now. It’s just the production company did not want her working there anymore. What she does in her personal life…is her business.”
Black resumed her modeling career, and it was alleged that she sued to get back on the show. Although during her Reddit AMA, Black denied there was a lawsuit and openly petitioned to return to the show, writing, “I am still trying to show the production company that if I was fired for the SG photos, that the fans don’t care. I’d just like to have my job back. I think The [sic] fans are a lot more open then [sic] they’re given credit for.” Ultimately, Black never returned to the show and even left her job at the store several months later. It’s okay, Olivia—we still love you as a Suicide Girl.
When you deal with the public for a living, you really never know what’s going to happen. Harrison was reminded of this the hard way in 2014, when his store was sued for melting down a collection of gold coins that the former owner, David Walters, alleged had been stolen and sold off by his niece. According to UPI, Walters claimed that his niece received $12,375 for his $50,000 gold coin collection. And although pawn shops in Nevada are required to hold onto items for 30 to 90 days in case the owners want them back, gold coins aren’t subject to that law. Unfortunately for Walters, that meant his collection was gone by the time he tracked it down.
Shop spokeswoman Laura Herlovich offered a pretty unsympathetic view of the situation, telling UPI, “If the grader is not someone we trust, the cases are cracked open and the coins are sent out to be melted down. That was the case here. I don’t know for sure, but I believe a majority were melted down. They weren’t worth what he [Walters] thought they were worth.” We’re sure that devaluation takes the sting right out of being ripped off by his own family.
In 2014, Harrison was riding his bike while collecting supplies for his birthday party when a piece of his fender came off, sending him into a high-speed tailspin. Thinking fast, he avoided sailing into traffic by jumping off his bike—and he still went to the party before heading to the hospital, where he learned he had a broken hand, according to TMZ.
Harrison’s no stranger to wrecks, either; in 2011, he was in the news for wiping out in the rain during a ride between Vegas and San Diego. Maybe it’s time to start pawning the bikes.
Reality TV can be fickle, so credit is due to Harrison for striking while the iron is hot and using his fame as the foundation for a business empire that now includes “Pawn Plaza,” a shopping center made out of old shipping containers that sits next door to the store.
But the rollout of the spinoff shopping center has been a little rocky. Shortly after opening its doors, Pawn Plaza saw five tenants leave in 2016 alone. One of those tenants was Rita’s Italian Ice owner Paul Weinstein, who told KTNV that he felt “slighted and betrayed” by unrealistic promises of heavy foot traffic. Weinstein also says he was “forced out” after Pawn Plaza doubled his rent “knowing that it (the rent) was more than we were making a month.”
Speaking with KTNV (via Eater Vegas), Harrison addressed the issues with his side gig as a landlord, saying, “I’ve gone above and beyond for every tenant I’ve had.” Not mentioning Weinstein specifically, Harrison also said, “I’ve had a few people moving out. One guy was getting on the news and saying it was my fault. …There is no such thing as build it and they will come. There just isn’t.” And Harrison kind of has a point, doesn’t he? If you can’t sell Italian ice in the middle of the desert, is that really your landlord’s fault?
A lot of celebrities are subject to death hoaxes online, but very few take on any kind of real traction. For some reason, however, when the internet randomly decides that Chumlee from Pawn Stars is dead, a lot of people believe it.
According to Snopes, the first time Chumlee fake-died was in 2013, when the dubious site Internet Chronicle reported that he passed away from a “marijuana overdose.” Not only is it not possible to die this way, it was completely made up. Snopes also reports that less than a year later, another site, eBuzzd, prematurely declared Chumlee dead, this time from a heart attack. This report was particularly ironic given that the lovable goof had actually dramatically changed his lifestyle and was dieting and exercising at this time. Presumably responding to the rumors of his death, Chumlee tweeted, “May we live long, Rich forever.” Um, sure.