CHANGES SEND CHUMLEE ON A ‘SETTLED-DOWN’ PATH
by NORM CLARKE
Much has changed since I last sat down with Austin “Chumlee” Russell for an interview five years ago.
He’s engaged now and opened a candy store. He’s taken a dramatic step in his battle with weight issues. And he’s considering a new career in Hollywood.
What hasn’t changed is the popularity of History’s “Pawn Stars” reality show or Chum’s as the show rolls toward its 10th anniversary in July.
“Well, I don’t get many motorboat requests anymore,” he said in a telephone interview last week, “but yesterday somebody came into my candy shop and asked me to sign their arm with a Sharpie.”
An hour later, he said, the person returned to reveal that the autograph on the arm was now a tattoo. Female admirers have sent lockets of their hair in hopes of being pen pals.
About that motorboat reference. During our 2013 interview, I asked Russell about the craziest requests he gets.
His response went viral. “People want me to call their friend on the phone and talk to them,” he said. “But at least 1,000 times, no, 100,000 times, a guy will say ‘take a picture with my wife. Now, put your face in her boobies and motorboat ‘em.’ I’m thinking to myself ‘dude, are you serious?’ Of course I’m not going to be setting that kind of an example. And that’s all of the time.”
More than 500 episodes of the show have aired throughout the world over 15 seasons and there’s no indication that’s going to change, he said.
“It could be the last season or we could do another 10 years,” he said. “We’re doing some things to mix up the format. Adding new aspects. I don’t see them changing it up just to do one last year.”
The “Pawn Star” family is still mourning the loss of Richard “Old Man” Harrison, the patriarch of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, which he opened with his son Rick, in 1989. The senior Harrison died June 25 of Parkinson’s Disease. He was 77.
The new-look “Pawn Stars” begins airing in the new year, he said.
Here’s the rest of the Q and A:
Talk about what the ‘Old Man’ meant to you.
“He meant the world to me. He was pretty much a grandfather to me and he didn’t have to be. He came off as grumpy but he was always there with advice and joking around with me. He changed so many lives with his generosity. He was so kind if someone needed help. He loaned someone money when their animal needed surgery. He supported battered women.”
Best advice he gave you?
“He told me to keep my head up and focus on the good things in front of me and positive things. He said ‘Don’t worry about people’s opinions.’ It’s seems pretty basic but he was married over 50 years and I think he taught me how to become a good husband.”
What are your favorite episodes?
“When I took the Old Man on my lowrider (a 1986 Buick Regal) and hit the hydraulics. And the Bob Dylan episode, maybe six years ago. We bought a Bob Dylan album and Rick wanted it signed. He didn’t want anything else on it, just Dylan’s signature. When I go to his suite at Caesars, he signed his name and asked if I wanted to him to put anything else on it. I said, ‘Put to Chum.’ I love his music. I figured I’ll deal with Rick later. It’s framed and hanging in my house.”
How often are you filming now compared to the early years?
“In the early years we did six weeks on, two weeks off. Now we’re filming about three months (straight through).”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“I don’t know,” said Russell, who turned 36 on Sept. 8. “I got engaged so I may have to leave town for her to get the kind of job she wants. Her name is Olivia. She’s still in college. She wants to be in some kind of research, pharmaceutical or cancer.”
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done lately?
“Ride a motorcycle next to Corey (Harrison). I’m not a big risk taker. I’m enjoying the settled-down life.”
What’s changed the most in your life?
“I’ve been with Olivia for three years. I’ve opened Chumlee’s Candy on The Boulevard. It’s only open 50 hours a week. My brother’s running it. Wednesday we’re handing out 50-60 pounds of candy to kids for Halloween.” He added he’s had gastric sleeve surgery and lost 120 pounds in the past year.
Where are you going to be on Halloween?
“I’m going to be in Los Angeles with Rick.”
You hit a rough spot a couple years ago. (He was arrested March 9, 2016 at his home when police found a dozen guns, including unregistered assault-style rifles, registered handguns, a shotgun, plus a gallon of marijuana, anxiety medication and a small amount of methamphetamine. In a deal that called for three years’ probation and counseling, he plead guilty to unlawful possession of a weapon and to a gross misdemeanor of attempted drug possession.)
Was life getting too fast and what did you learn from it?
“I learned you got to slow down. Things were going too fast for me. I’ve got to relax.”
How rough was it?
“It was an unfortunate situation. There were some false allegations. I had all the guns but they were legal and registered.” (The felony charge will be dismissed in 2019 if he stays out of trouble. He would be left with only a misdemeanor conviction on his record).
What kind of fan mail did you get...good and bad?
“Everyone was very supportive.”
Have you considered new career opportunities?
“I took some acting classes. Hopefully I’ll get involved in that.”