2016 proved to be a challenging year for one of Las Vegas’ best known but most unlikely celebrities.
His name is Austin Russell but the world knows him as Chumlee, the likeable pawn shop employee whose rose to fame along with the rest of the cast of the Pawn Stars TV show.
Chumlee kept a low profile for much of the year but recently sat down with George Knapp to talk about his life and future.
“Well, most people call me Chumlee or Chum, but there’s a couple of people that call me Oz,” said Austin Russell.
He says he doesn’t believe he is a celebrity.
“I like to live like I’m not a celebrity. I still do my own grocery shopping, Russell said.
He might do his own grocery shopping, but he can drive to the market in his Rolls Royce or his Maserati. Austin Russell, his nickname inspired by a rotund cartoon walrus, is a multi-millionaire, thanks to the global success of the Pawn Stars TV series.
“I thought we’d have 12 fun episodes to talk about,” he said.
Chumlee was a boyhood friend of Corey Harrison, whose father and grandfather own the now famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop. He worked at the shop for five years before the show debuted. The producers had the three Harrisons locked in as main characters but it was not a given that Chum would be the fourth.
“There was 10 other employees in the shop and they were looking for a fourth person to put in the show, and 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 not get nervous in front of the cameras, and it kind of worked out,” he said.
The chemistry worked, and the lumpy likable Chumlee emerged as a fan favorite. On the show, he provides comic relief and is often chided as the dim bulb of the group. Off the air, the affability is still apparent but he’s no dummy.
George Knapp: “Do you ever say to them on the show, ‘Llook I don’t want to be the butt of the jokes. I want to be the smart guy.'”
Chumlee: “Well you know, along time ago, when we first started making the show, I thought to myself, is this the route I really want to go? I’m relaly looking dumb, but I just thought, you know, people love it, so just stay true to myself. I honestly am not. I am the dumbest guy in the room when I’m with those three. That doesn’t make me dumb, but they are definitely much book smarter than I ever could be.”
“I’ve been sort of taking care of Chum on and off since he was like 13, and that story is true,” Rick Harrison said.
Russell says he thinks of Rick Harrison as a second dad. His ties to the family are real, show or no show. Those ties were tested back in March when police found a pile of pot and a dozen guns in Chumlee’s Las Vegas home. Felony charges were filed but were later reduced. Chumlee made changes in his life, focused even more of his energy on working with multiple charities and interacting with fans, but never lost the support of his extended family and feels he is in a better place.
“Yeah, I’m in a good place. I mean, I went through some stuff this year, but I mean, everything’s good I just want to thank all my fabs who stick by me, everyone who stuck by the show and didn’t pass judgment and waited for the truth to come out. I’m a young, 34. So there’s plenty of time to learn some more life lessons.”
Chumlee says he expects to have an expanded role on the TV show this coming season. He calls it, “Chum solo.”
Additional excerpts from the interview on New Year’s Eve.