History’s reality TV series “Pawn Stars” is probably one of the most successful titles of the genre since 19 July 2009, still ongoing in 2022. Rick Harrison, the legend behind the idea, has not only grown a multi-million dollar business, but also paved the way for an entirely new reality TV sub-type: pawn shops. At present, there are more than six other shows that draw their idea from the same premise, including “Cajun Pawn Stars,” “Pawn Stars UK,” “Pawn Stars Australia,” and so on.
The Harrison family, being as popular as they are, have been the target of many controversies throughout more than a dozen years in show business, so gossip and drama being related to them is not a surprise to anyone. However, most fans were indeed taken aback upon hearing that Rick’s own mother took him to court in a lawsuit.
One would think that at least the family itself is stable, considering how well off they must be resulting at least partly from the success of their show. That couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as Rick had to get himself a lawyer against his own mother in early 2022. The reason why this happened is something that not many have been able to wrap their heads around.
Joanne Rhue Harrison had her attorneys draw up a lawsuit against Rick Harrison on 24 February this year in Nevada state court, naming Rick, his Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, JoRich Properties, Harrison Properties and a few other entities as defendants. The court case reveals that Joanne co-owned the buy-and-sell store that later turned into the world-renowned pawnshop, along with her husband Richard Harrison, also known in the show as ‘The Old Man.’
The problem appeared when in the year 2000 Rick approached Joanne while she was hospitalized and had her sign the 51% ownership interest she had over to him, which made him the legal co-owner of the pawnshop, with his father, who had the other 49%. After Richard’s passing in 2018, Joanne inherited that 49% through his will, and became co-owner again, but Rick seems to have failed to live up to the obligations he had towards her.
As is legally required of each co-owner, he had to provide the entire documentation of the business’ finances up to the point of Joanne’s ownership being reinstated. However, it seems that Rick has something to hide from his mother, or simply didn’t care to follow through with her request. Regardless of the reason, she is using this breach of contract to take him to court and seek an as-of-yet unspecified amount in damages.
Additionally, the lawsuit posits that Richard’s massive net worth can’t be fully accounted for by Rick, who is tasked with providing due accounting of over $500,000 in pure cash and assets that his father left behind.
The settlement Joanne is going for consists of an untold amount of money in damages, a full accounting of all the assets that previously belonged to Richard, an official court order that bans her son from manipulating the funds bequeathed to her according to her late husband’s will, and finally the so-described ‘collective trust’ over any and all property that she legally inherited.
Of course, until ruled otherwise by the court, all of these accusations remain unfounded near the end of 2022. Rick commented that ‘The allegations are false and I think my 81-year old mother is being manipulated by others for their personal gain.’
— WFLA NEWS (@WFLA) March 2, 2022
The extravagant history of Rick and the shop behind “Pawn Stars”
Rick Harrison built an empire of a business, but he wasn’t alone in that endeavor, and there are a lot of people who directly or indirectly contributed to the success he enjoys today. To start off with, he was born on 22 March 1965 in Lexington, North Carolina USA. His famous parents Richard and Joanne were already success stories themselves when he was born.
They had two children before Rick, starting with Sherry Joanne Harrison, who passed away at six years of age. Joseph Kent Harrison was next in line, right before Rick, and Chris Harrison came into the picture just afterwards. Richard Benjamin Harrison, was a US Navy veteran at the time of Rick’s birth.
There was a rumor that apparently Richard himself started, which presumes that they are all related to former US President William Henry Harrison, through a distant genetic connection to his grandson Benjamin Harrison. Rick himself doesn’t really subscribe to this idea.
The family moved from Rick’s birthplace to San Diego, California, when he was two years old. His childhood went smoothly for the next six years, but he developed epilepsy by age eight, and started having grand mal seizures – the most serious kind. This illness had him bed-ridden for most of his childhood, though that turned out to be extremely profitable.
Unable to partake in most activities from his bed, and not having access to the one and only TV set the family possessed at the time, which was in another room, Rick turned to books to keep himself entertained. He developed a strong literary passion that kept him glued to title after title.
Epilepsy itself still had a profound impact on him, so much so that later in life he became the spokesperson for the Epilepsy Foundation, participating in its annual walks in Washington DC in March every year.
In 2014, upon being interviewed by wtop.com regarding the reason for such staunch support of the cause, he divulged a little bit about his struggle, saying ‘Epilepsy is a condition that really doesn’t get the press and everything that it needs.’ Furthermore, he revealed how he became such a well-versed connoisseur of historically important objects, which he deals with daily in the pawnshop.
He stated ‘The best way to entertain myself was to read, so I became very interested in history books.’ Rick read up a lot on physics too, as well as a few other crucial sciences. As a result of his childhood being spent mostly reading, he boasts a very diverse vocabulary and enviable knowledge on a number of topics, which undoubtedly helps him know what he’s dealing with every day in the shop.
Most importantly, Rick’s favorite books were a series written by John D. Fitzgerald entitled “The Great Brain,” featuring a ten-year old boy from Utah named Tom D. Fitzgerald, whose ability to come up with cash-grabbing schemes out of thin air is unparalleled. Idolizing this character greatly helped instill in Rick the hustle mindset he has maintained in the show for over 13 years. As for his favorite non-fictional content, he was particularly infatuated with the Royal Navy from near the end of the 1700’s to the early 1800’s – an affinity likely influenced by his father’s career.
The first sign of the influence of Fitzgerald’s book was the fact that he attended Taft Middle School of the San Diego Unified School District only until the tenth grade, deliberately dropping out so as to start selling fake Gucci bags for approximately $2,000 per week, as alleged in his short biography on History’s website.
The Harrison family owned a real-estate business for the greater part of Rick’s childhood, but when it went bottoms-up at his age of 16, the whole flock moved over to Las Vegas, Nevada. Richard and Joanne then started up the business that would later take the world by storm, after purchasing an area of 300 square feet (28 square meters), which they turned into a modest second-hand store called the Gold & Silver Coin Shop.
Rick began working his day job there immediately, meanwhile also having a second job repossessing cars by night. Five years down the line, the store relocated from Las Vegas Boulevard South to the much more prestigious Fremont Street. It closed down two years later, however, as his parents couldn’t afford the lease any longer.
The business was reopened in 1988 on Las Vegas Boulevard at a lower cost, and ran for a while with a moderate income. Rick and Richard had been looking at ways to drastically increase their earnings throughout that time, eventually agreeing on the idea that owning a pawnshop could make them very wealthy.
This was a great idea for more than one reason, but most importantly, Rick’s vast knowledge and Richard’s long-term business expertise sounded like the perfect combination of what is required for the endeavor. That said, their dream faced multiple obstacles at the time, the most important one being of a legal nature.
According to the Las Vegas law signed in 1955, pawn licenses were to be issued only if the current number of its such licensee owners was considered too low for the current population. Thus, the duo ended up having to wait for the number of registered Las Vegas residents to reach 250,000, which happened not long after they moved the shop due to financial woes.
Richard called the city council every single week for months, until, finally, in April 1988, they told him that he was able to acquire a license. This wasn’t a simple process, however, so the duo had to become compliant with a myriad of legal requirements. A year and a mountain of paperwork down the line, the business was finally ready for launch, and so Rick and his father opened up the official Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in relative proximity to the Las Vegas Strip.
With their heads in the business and running it full steam, 16 years later they were giving out approximately $3 million per year in loans, which came with $700,000 interest income – an unprecedented yield for what started as a second-hand store in a desperate household with too many mouths to feed.
How “Pawn Stars” came to be
With great earnings came new opportunities, and Rick wanted to expand upon the fresh potential of the business. His idea of doing that was landing the work on TV, but no one seemed to agree with him, especially not producers.
Harrison explained some of the misfortunes from that time in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying ‘I was pitching the show for four years, and nothing ever came of it. Then out of the blue, Leftfield Pictures calls me up and says ‘Hey, we’re thinking about trying to do a reality show in a pawn shop.’ I said ‘Oh, really? I’ve been trying to get this thing going for four years!’ It was really refreshing.’
What Rick means by ‘refreshing’ is the fact that most producers who could’ve helped him launch the show were story-oriented, and their view of a business-centered TV series’ success was off the mark, definitely not on par with the understanding Rick had.
Rick added ‘They were from New York. They weren’t from Hollywood. They were really business-minded, from the first call with them to being on the air for six months, and from there, the ratings just kept on going up.’
The show finally landed on the History channel in 2009, and has kept going strongly ever since. After the unfortunate passing of ‘The Old Man,’ characters such as Austin ‘Chumlee’ Russell and Corey ‘Big Hoss’ Harrison, as well as Rick himself, remain instrumental in its continuation.
Over the course of its 18 seasons and more than 600 episodes, the TV series has deservedly received four awards and three other nominations. Its first and most significant win was the ASCAP Film and Television Music Award in the Top Television Series category in 2011, which it won again in 2012, and twice in 2013. Aside from that, it was nominated three times for the Critics Choice Television Award, twice in the Best Reality Series category in 2012 and 2013, as well as in the Best Unstructured Reality Show category in 2016.
The Harrison family drama continues
While the aforementioned lawsuit remains to be witnessed and talked about, it’s undeniable that family unity among the Harrisons is at its all-time low. This distrust is nothing new, however, as there was another such case in 2018, when it was revealed a month after Richard’s passing that he completely erased his son Christopher from the will.
When asked about the nature of the decision, Rick refused to comment, stating that ‘the family had previously discussed this information and it’s a private matter.’ Without actual knowledge of what happened, fans can only speculate what the reason for a potentially vehement disagreement between the father and son may have been.
As for Rick, he didn’t even react to this news at all, giving his father a farewell on social media by saying ‘He was my hero and I was fortunate to get a very cool ‘Old Man’ as my dad, that I got to share him with so many others and they got to see what a great family man he was is something I am grateful to have experienced with him.’