Austin Russell, better known as Chumlee, made headlines back in March after he was arrested for possessing drugs and guns. Chumlee, who’s been a popular star of History Channel’s Pawn Stars since it premiered in 2009, was released on bail a couple days after his arrest. Since then, he’s been keeping a low profile, opting to focus on handling the charges in court, rather than trying to fight against the media’s presentation of his charges.
Chumlee Before Pawn Stars
Austin Lee Russell was born on September 5, 1982, and grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. He earned his nickname, Chumlee, when he was 12 years old, due to his resemblance to Chumly, the walrus from the 60s cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. As a child, he became friends with Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison, whose father and grandfather ran the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.
World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop opened in 1989, and as children, Chumlee and Corey spent a lot of time there. Chumlee started working there in 2003, initially just as a clerk behind the counter, writing sales tickets and helping make sure potential purchases were functional.
In the late 2000s, Brent Montgomery and Colby Gaines of Leftfield Pictures were in Las Vegas, and noticed the strange and seedy pawn shops that were all over the city. They set off looking for a family-run store to base a TV series around, and eventually were made aware of the Harrison’s pawn shop. Gold & Silver Pawn Shop had been the subject of a documentary on PBS in 2001, and shortly before Chumlee started working there, was featured on Insomniac with Dave Attell, the Comedy Central show.
Montgomery and Gaines originally pitched the show, they were focused on the store being open 24/7, enabling people to pawn their possessions at any time. They pitched the show to HBO, who passed. Eventually, the format evolved, and the History Channel, who were looking to balance their heavily militaristic programming, took an interest. Initially, the show was going to be called Pawning History, but Leftfield suggested Pawn Stars would be more appealing and easy to remember.
Pawn Stars premiered on July 19, 2009, and quickly became one of History Channel’s highest rated shows, eventually becoming the highest rated show on the channel, in addition to the second highest rated reality show on TV, after Jersey Shore. Filmed on location at the Harrison’s store, each episode usually involves the purchase of about a half dozen items, focusing heavily on appraising each item. The show didn’t shy away from representing the interpersonal tensions that cropped up between the employees, though.
On Pawn Stars, Chumlee is often represented as a comedic foil to the Harrisons, and is frequently made fun of for his implied lack of intelligence, often being referred to as the village idiot. However, Chumlee has developed an in-depth knowledge of pinball machines, sneakers, and video games, helping him argue against his costars’ accusations of incompetency.
Regardless of his representation on the show, Chumlee quickly became a favorite among viewers of the show. Due to the show’s massive success, Chumlee started his own merchandise company, which sells novelty items and t-shirts that he designs himself. In 2010, he sold half of the company to the elder Harrison for just over $150,000. Chumlee is by far the most popular person on the show, with his merchandise selling more than the other three stars combined.
By the fourth season, Chumlee had changed much of his lifestyle, losing around 75 pounds, completely reforming his diet, and exercising frequently. He took up the hobby of modifying his luxury cars, of which he owns several, including a Rolls-Royce Phantom and Maserati GranTurismo. In 2013, he also began dating Tanya Hyjazi, a chef for a large casino in Las Vegas. He drew some criticism later that year when he paid for her to have a breast enlargement. Some tabloids reported it as though he pressured her into getting the elective surgery, but when questioned, he said that she had been planning on it before they started dating, and he simply wanted to do so because he earned a much higher income than her.
What is Chumlee Doing Now In 2024 – Recent Updates
In March 2016, he was arrested after police found marijuana, Xanax, crystal meth, and multiple firearms in his home. He was later released on bond the following day.
Several months later, he was charged with 20 felony counts, including weapons and drug charges. Chumlee ultimately pleaded guilty and avoided jail time. Instead, he was given three years of probation and counseling.
His legal troubles led many fans to wonder whether or not he would still be on Pawn Stars. In the end, they didn’t have to wonder for too long as he soon reappeared on the show in 2017. In fact, he has been a regular star ever since then. He also seems to have avoided further legal issues.
As of 2024, he is starring in the 21st season of Pawn Stars, which premiered in August 2022. He has also appeared in the spinoff series Pawn Stars Do America, where they travel to different popular cities in search of collectible objects and historical finds.
For those who’d like to know what else the reality star is up to, you can follow him on social media. He has over 632K followers on Instagram (@chumlee) and more than 208K followers on Twitter (@chumlee_). He also has an official Facebook page, which you can check out here.