Anyone who’s even slightly familiar with reality TV knows who Paul Teutul Sr is. Famous for starring in the wildly popular “American Chopper”, the Teutul patriarch doesn’t stay away from scandals for too long and that’s exactly what’s made him one of the most memorable people in the entertainment industry during the last two decades.
However, while a huge part of the audience knows Paul Sr for his toughness, explosive humor and good taste when it comes to building choppers and bikes, the truth is that there’s a whole part of his personal life that many people haven’t got to know about yet.
So what are the personal struggles of this “American Chopper” star? Stay here to know all about Paul Teutul Sr.’s long battle with alcoholism, family issues, legal troubles and so much more!
Dealing With Alcoholism
It’s not always that we get a sincere outlook about the life of a TV star, but that’s quite different when it comes to Paul Teutul Sr. The legendary bike builder from New York has always been rather open about his long-time struggles with addiction, detailing his story in his 2009’s autobiography “The Ride of a Lifetime” and in several interviews over the years.
While it’s not clear when exactly Paul Sr. developed these tendencies, his addictions had a negative impact in his personal life and career: ‘Back in the day, I kinda started early drinking and getting high’, he said in a 2014 interview with CNN, referring to the early 1980s during the initial stages of his first business Orange County Ironworks: ‘What it does is it gets progressively worse, and I think that I finally got to the point where it kinda just took over my life completely’, he admitted.
Alcoholism wasn’t new for Paul Sr., as he recalled that his uncle and mother and other family members struggled with it too. However, it wasn’t until he promised his then-wife Paula that he would leave alcohol altogether that he took the first big step into sobering up by attending Alcoholics Anonymous in 1985, and staying sober ever since.
The famous phrase ‘if I can do it, anybody can do it’ comes from Paul Sr.’s 2009 memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime”, but it took lots of self-control and determination for him to stay sober. It started on a fateful day in 1985, when his life took a turn for the worse: ‘I decided that I’d either have to sober up, or die. I chose to die’.
Despite confessing his inability to recover, a promise to his then-wife Paula couldn’t just be broken: ‘my vow to my wife had been to get sober, and that was what I was going to do’, he wrote in his book.
Although Paul Sr. didn’t actually go to rehab in order not to leave his business unattended for too long, his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were worth it for the long nine years he attended them. During that time, Paul Sr. went through rough times though, such as losing a former business, and a drinking partner to alcoholism, but he was able to expand Orange County Ironworks, for which he credits his sobered state: ‘I was able to take that drive that was always there, and apply it in a positive way’, Paul recalled in his book, putting a positive ending to that bittersweet phase of his life. Paul Sr. hasn’t drunk alcohol for over 30 years.
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While Paul Sr. has fortunately left his addiction to alcohol behind, in 2011 he was mentioned in a lamentable case of drug distribution. According to court records, the Teutul patriarch was prescribed illegal steroids by a Florida dentist named James M. D’Amico. Some of the substances mentioned include human growth hormones, testosterone, stanozolol and others, amounting to $51,784.78 over the course of four years.
However, Paul Sr. wasn’t the only person mentioned in the case, as the professional allegedly provided illegal muscle-enhancing drugs to a long list of high-profile celebrities, including athletes.
According to a Times Union report, court papers show that D’Amico’s was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality, which could have caused his ‘poor judgment and impulsive decisions’. His criminal record lists fraud, neglect and possession of cocaine as the reasons for revoking his dentistry license in 2003, though it’s unknown if any of his customers knew about D’Amico’s situation.
Though D’Amico was ultimately sentenced to four and a half years in prison, Teutul and most of his former customers apparently didn’t face legal charges because of it.
Problems With His Son
Although disagreements and arguments weren’t rare for the Teutuls, in 2008 the relationship between Paul Sr and Paul Jr reached its lowest point, when the Teutul patriarch fired his son from Orange County Choppers. This incident was heavily featured in an early 2009 “American Chopper” episode, letting the audience see how an argument related to Jr.’s seemingly lack of care for the shop’s schedules resulted in a verbal and physical fight.
While Jr. worked for Orange County Choppers as a contractor, that agreement didn’t last long, and he soon started his business Paul Jr. Designs. However, a one year long non-compete clause didn’t allow him to build bikes right away, leaving him no option than to focus his designs efforts on home grills and canine products, while at the same time Sr. filed a lawsuit to buy Jr.’s share in Orange County Choppers.
The lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court, with Sr. acquiring his son’s share in the business, but even then their relationship wasn’t fixed. According to several reports, father and son didn’t contact each other for over a decade, which was marked by several incidents such as Sr. not attending his son’s wedding in 2010, added to Jr.’s description of his father as ‘narcissistic’ in his 2017 memoir “The Build”.
At some point in “American Chopper”, all hope of seeing Paul Sr. and Jr. reconcile with each other was seemingly lost, after many years had passed since that fateful disagreement which broke their father-son relationship.
However, the unexpected happened in 2018, when an “American Chopper” revival series premiered in March that year, featuring both Sr. and Jr., who despite not working together in the new show, made it clear that they were trying to fix their fractured bond. According to an interview Paul Sr gave to The New York Post, he and his son had reflected on their relationship after the release of Paul Junior’s book: ‘I guess I was hurt, but you know, again, neither one of us want to live back there again’ Sr said, also revealing they had agreed to leave their differences behind once and for all: ‘he perceived it one way and I [perceived it] another way. So who wins that argument? Nobody’.
While that “American Chopper” revival only lasted two seasons, in 2020 Sr. and Jr. were seen working together for the first time in ten years for the special “The Last Ride”, filmed before Orange County Choppers moved out of its old basement in New York City, to Florida. Though Senior and Junior aren’t seen hanging out together much since then, they’re apparently on relatively good terms nowadays.
There's nothing worse than getting a raw deal after a motorcycle crash. We teamed up with Paul Teutul Sr. to let bikers know we've got their backs. Watch Paul in a new special airing August 4th on Discovery Channel!#PaulTeutulSr #OrangeCountyChoppers #OCC #choppermotorcycle pic.twitter.com/pnv3JoSr9v
— CallRainwater.com (@CallRainwater) August 3, 2020
Besides his addiction and family issues, Paul Sr. has faced several legal issues in the last decade. Such is the case of the lawsuit filed against Orange County Choppers by former employee named Justin Barnes, who is remembered by “American Choppers” fans for working on some of the most-well known projects of the business including The Comanche Bike and The Fire Bike, before leaving the shop for financial reasons.
It all started in June 2009, when Barnes, who had worked for Paul Sr. as a painter, sued the business for copyright infringement, for allegedly using his artwork in merchandise without authorization. Some of the products apparently reproduced by Orange County Choppers included DVDs covers for “American Chopper”, keychains, die-casts and several other items. However, while it was revealed negotiations failed before Barnes ultimately opted for a lawsuit, the lack of information about the case after its filing hints that an out of court settlement most likely took place.
The Cody Connelly Lawsuit
Another lawsuit was on the way for Paul Sr. in 2009, though in this case it was from Cody Connelly, a former Orange County Choppers employee who sued the business for fraud and breach of contract. As avid “American Choppers” fans might remember, Connelly appeared in early episodes of the series as a shop intern, spending his late teens learning the basics of the fabrication business, while studying at the American Motorcycle Institute on the side.
In 2007, Connelly went to V-Force Customs, owned by the former “American Chopper” star Vincent DiMartino, but his story with Orange County Choppers was far from finished. In July 2009 Connelly sued “American Choppers” for allegedly not paying him for over 60 appearances in the show, amounting to $250,000, along with requesting the Old School Chopper, which he allegedly didn’t receive despite it being gifted to him by Paul Sr. in a 2003 episode, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Unfortunately, it’s unknown what happened to either element of the case.
After staying away from legal trouble for a couple of years, Paul Sr. faced yet another lawsuit in 2018. Following online reports, Senior had agreed to film an “American Chopper” revival entitled “Orange County Choppers: American Made”, which was meant to be funded by a man named Thomas Derbyshire.
However, the agreement took an ugly turn when Paul Sr. allegedly changed the deal in his favor, accepted unauthorized deals with brands seeking to be featured in the show, and used the production’s money for personal benefit, such as paying salary to his son Michael. According to Derbyshire, Senior also broke his contract by refusing to share screen time with Rusty Coones, known for appearing in “Sons of Anarchy”.
Although the case’s resolution is unknown, Page Six reported that Paul Sr. had refuted all the claims against him by the time the lawsuit hit headlines.
Another legal battle faced by Paul Sr is that involving “American Chopper”, his son Michael Teutul, and a photographer named Scott Gunnells.
According to Page Six, Gunnells claimed Orange County Choppers used his photographs without permission for merchandising, and in the 2018’s “American Choppers” revival, added to an extra photograph they allegedly erased his watermark from, in order to promote an art exhibition held by Michael. The lawsuit was filed in a Southern New York District court, which ultimately favored Gunnells, and determined that Orange County Choppers, Discovery and production company Pilgrim Media Group had to pay $258,484.45 in damages to Gunnells.
Breach In Contract
One of the most recent lawsuits against Paul Sr. was filed by JTM Motorsports, a New York City auto shop which claimed that the Teutul patriarch owed $30,000 for breaking a deal.
According to reports, in mid-2018 Teutul agreed to feature JTM Motorsports in the “American Chopper” revival, in exchange of modifications to his Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, which he brought to the shop in August that year. Given that the agreement never saw completion on Teutul’s side, a court determined that he owed JTM Motorsports $30,000 for their services – apparently the case didn’t go smoothly, as Senior was reportedly physically restrained during a hearing, after lunging at one of the rival attorneys.
Despite coming to an agreement in January 2019, by April Paul Sr. had failed to pay his debt, JTM accused him of civil contempt, and asked for an additional $13,000 in court fees and damages.
As well as the aforementioned legal problems, Paul Sr.’s most recent ordeal was related to his complicated financial situation. Back in 2018, Paul Sr. filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, as his debts amounted to $1,070,893 while his net worth of $1,801,729 indicated only an interest in his Montgomery mansion.
According to reports, Paul Senior’s monthly income was $15,070, but he spent around $12,000 in personal expenses, along with owing over $150,000 in taxes. Just a couple of months after being accused by a trustee of neglecting his bankruptcy case, in May 2019 Sr. sold his mansion and other assets for $1.9 million, successfully settling his debts.
The Future of Orange County Choppers
Following the closure and subsequent demolition of Orange County Choppers’ old New York City basement, and the settlement of his bankruptcy case, Paul Sr. wanted a change of scenery.
That’s how in 2021, he ended up moving to Florida, where he established a new Orange County Choppers next to the Road House & Museum, a bike themed bar restaurant founded by Sr. in association with businessman Keith Overton.
That being said, there aren’t any hints of “American Choppers” returning to the screen anytime soon, but it’s a relief to see that Paul Sr. has left all those dark chapters of his life behind….we think!