Richard “Old Man” Harrison was the founder of the world-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. Over the years, the shop has gathered quite a reputation for being the best in the business. After years of trying to get a reality TV show deal, the shop was finally approached by The History Channel, and the rest is, well, history.
Millions of fans worldwide tuned in to watch the inner-workings of the Harrison clan and their 24-hour pawn shop. When Harrison passed away in 2018, his family and fans were devastated. However, they were shocked to learn some of his final wishes.
Keep reading to learn how Richard Harrison built his multi-million dollar business from the ground up and about his puzzling final wishes.
Although Harrison wasn’t always business-oriented, he was definitely always fond of cars. So fond that before he started his business venture in Sin City, he committed some sins of his own. Right before his marriage, Harrison was caught trying to steal a car.
He was arrested, and the judge gave him an ultimatum: Serve time in prison or draft into the United States Military. Harrison was not so keen on going to jail, so he decided to draft into the Navy. Well, the Navy’s discipline and structure did Harrison well, and he surprisingly served for a total of two decades. He achieved the rank of petty officer first class (PO1) before he was discharged.
Always a Family Man
When Harrison was 17 years old, he met his future wife, Joanne Rhue, at a barn dance in 1958. The pair wed two years later, right after Harrison enlisted in the US military. Joanne became pregnant almost immediately after the wedding and gave birth to a baby girl named Sherry.
At the time of Sherry’s birth, Harrison was serving in the Navy. He wanted to spend more time with his wife and their newborn baby girl, so he left the Navy in 1962. Sadly, the rough times in Harrison’s life were far from over. Sherry was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome at birth. Harrison loved staying home with his growing family, but the medical bills started piling up.
A Hard Loss
Harrison understood that he needed to find a way to support his family. So, he did what any dad in this situation would do and reenlisted into the Navy. The new father understood that the military’s family medical package would cover all of Sherry’s medical bills. So, a little more than a year after he was released, Harrison officially rejoined the Navy.
Sadly, after various complications, Sherry passed away when she was only six years old. According to the Pawn Stars Wiki, she was laid to rest at Forest Hill Memorial Park in North Carolina. The loss of their only daughter was hard for Harrison and his wife, so they decided it was time for a change.
Moving to Real Estate
In 1967, Harrison was transferred to a Navy base in San Diego, California. He remained in the Navy until he was released in 1976. The change of scenery did the Harrison family well. Despite the untimely death of their daughter, Harrison and his wife wanted to grow their family.
During his twenty years in the Navy, the Harrisons welcomed three baby boys into their family: Joseph, Rick, and Chris. Having three boys to take care of was a lot, but the kids weren’t the only thing Joanne focused on. It was important for Joanne to have a career, so while her husband was serving in the Navy, she obtained her real estate license.
Three years after obtaining her license, Joanne opened her own real estate office. Once Harrison was released from the Navy in 1976, he teamed up with his wife and worked at her office part-time. Sadly, the Harrison family was about to go through another round of tough times.
The real estate market was hit hard in the late ’70s, which directly impacted Joanne’s business. They tried to keep their business afloat, but they began to amass large amounts of debt because of high-interest rates. At one point, the couple found themselves owing a whopping one million dollars. Harrison understood that he was going to have to find a solution and fast.
A Much Needed Move
Harrison believed that yet another change in scenery would do his family some good. So, in 1981 they packed up their belongings and moved to Las Vegas, with their three boys in tow. Little did Harrison know that this move was going to mark the beginning of his family empire. With only $5,000 to his name, Harrison decided to try his hand as a business owner.
He and his son Rick opened up their first pawnshop called Gold & Silver Coin Shop. As you can understand from the name, the shop dealt with mostly gold and silver. It was originally located on Las Vegas Boulevard, but after a few years, Harrison’s business was doing so well that he moved into a larger building located on Fremont Street.
The Secret to Success
Today, buying and selling items on the Internet is such a normal thing. It’s hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, this was barely on our radars. Before smartphones and online shopping were a thing, people bought, sold, and negotiated prices for personal belongings at pawn and trade shops.
We also have to remember that the owners of pawnshops couldn’t just Google the price or the history of a customer’s item. This meant that the appraisers and traders had to know everything about anything. This is what made a successful pawnshop. If the shop couldn’t get enough money for the items people brought in, then it couldn’t hand out loans to its clients, and the entire business would fail.
Trying His Luck
Although the Gold & Silver Coin Shop focused on coins, Harrison understood that if he wanted to grow his business, he would have to expand his area of expertise. In 1987, Harrison obtained his license to buy and sell second-hand goods, which completely changed his business’s direction. He invested $10,000 to revamp his business and hit the books.
To succeed, Harrison needed to learn all about all sorts of items, and fast. From vintage items like cars to high-end jewelry like Rolex watches, Harrison learned a lot about his products. But gaining an incredibly massive amount of knowledge wasn’t the only skill he sharpened before earning the spot as the best in the business.
Like Father, Like Son
Yes, Harrison cared about his growing business, but he was, first and foremost, a family man. While Harrison was sharpening his skills as a knowledgeable appraiser, he was also becoming closer to his son, Rick. Over the next few years, his teenage son followed him around the shop, taking in Harrison’s sales expertise like a sponge.
The duo focused on sharpening their negotiation skills and soon became the trademark for a dynamic duo. Together, they formed a sort of good cop/bad cop routine to buy high-valued items for as low of a price as possible. In some ways, this act was the trademark of Harrison’s shop and his eventual reality show.
An Early Start
Rick’s love for negotiating and pawning began when he was a young kid. When Rick was eight years old, he suffered a series of epileptic seizures. Because of this, he spent months in bed. To pass the time, he read countless books. It is rumored that the children’s series, The Great Brain, is what actually inspired Rick to sharpen his sales skills.
The series is about a ten-year-old boy who comes up with ways to save the day while making some money in the process. As Rick grew older, he began to read more, and, like his father, he gained an impressive amount of knowledge in a short amount of time. Then, when he was 13 years old, Rick joined his father at the shop.
Key to Success
The key to Harrison’s success wasn’t just his knowledge about products and his negotiation skills. Harrison, who was later nicknamed the Old Man, was a natural at recognizing the true value of a product. He was known at the shop as the “king of purchasing underpriced merchandise.”
Even before becoming big stars on The History Channel, Harrison and his son Rick were praised as some of the best in the business. Harrison was a great appraiser, while Rick was a natural-born hustler. But, in 1988, Harrison was left at a crossroads. The lease for his shop came to an end, and Harrison had to make an important decision that would affect his family.
The World Famous Pawn Shop
Harrison had finally found his calling. He loved everything in the pawning world, and his sons started showing interest in the business. On top of that, his business was in the perfect location, Las Vegas, which was a hub for thousands of people from all walks of life. There’s no doubt that he encountered all types of artifacts and antique items with interesting backstories.
So the Old Man decided to keep his business going. After his lease came to an end, Harrison moved his shop to another location, just outside the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. This location is what would become the world-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, which is famously featured on his reality show, Pawn Stars.
A Complete Turn-Around
Not only did Harrison move his shop into a larger space, but he also expanded the types of items that his shop-bought and sold. Like I mentioned before, instead of focusing only on gold and silver coins, Harrison and his employees focused on anything worth a pretty penny.
The most common item that was brought into the pawnshop was jewelry. With his new storefront, Harrison was ready to expand his business even more. Decades later, the store is still standing, tall and proud. Starting with only $5,000 in the early ’80s, Harrison completely turned his life around. He created a multi-million dollar business with a vast stock of inventory in the late ’00.
Strong Family Bond
The world-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop’s reputation was based on the father-son bond between Harrison and Rick, their negotiation and appraising skills, and their large inventory. While it’s pretty common to take over the family business once your parents retire, it isn’t always such a good idea.
However, the Harrisons proved time and time again that their family bond is stronger than ever. After a few years, Harrison and Rick decided to bring on another member to the team. It seems that a love for sales and negotiation runs in the Harrison family. It turned out that Rick’s son (and Harrison’s grandson) took a special interest in the family’s pawn business.
A Growing Business
When Rick’s son Corey was only nine years old, he became interested in the family business. He started helping out his father and grandfather at the store and soon became a full-time employee. Corey eventually brought his childhood friend, Austin “Chumlee” Russell, to join the team. The animated staff created quite a reputation around town.
The Las Vegas locals loved that the pawnshop was run by three different generations and fell in love with each of the workers’ outrageous personalities. Pretty soon, the whole world would get a glimpse into the world of Harrison’s pawn shop. So, just how did Harrison go from business owner to one of America’s favorite reality TV stars? Well, it all started with Rick.
Rick came up with the idea of documenting the day-to-day inner workings of his family’s pawnshop business. He knew that everyone would fall in love with his family and the crazy items people brought it. Rick also knew that the publicity would really help his family’s business and they would make even more money.
But while Harrison’s son knew it was a good idea, it took him a while to convince TV networks. The directors at these networks didn’t think that people would actually tune in to see four guys working in a pawn shop. Oh, but were they wrong! No one could have anticipated how successful this show would be.
The Road to Stardom
Audiences first got a glimpse of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop during a PBS documentary that debuted in 2001. Two years later, the shop was featured in Comedy Central’s Insomniac with Dave Attell. Rick also worked a bit with producers from HBO, but the reality show ultimately found its home at The History Channel. When the first episode premiered in 2009, audiences immediately fell in love.
During its first year, it was the second most popular show on TV (behind MTV’s Jersey Shore). However, other pawn shops criticized the show for its entertainment value. They said that it wasn’t typical for pawn shops to have such extravagant items brought to them. Regardless of the criticism, the show gathered a large following because the employees were so relatable. An episode that aired in 2011 was watched by over 7 million viewers!
Inspiring Life Story
Richard Harrison’s story is truly inspiring. While he had a rough start, his drive and kind spirit kept him going. He started a business with only a few grand to his name and turned it into one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Las Vegas. Harrison was a dedicated family man who proved time and time again that he would do anything to provide a nice life for his family.
But after a life of ups and downs, Harrison was faced with one final challenge. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Everyone, both family and friends, were incredibly saddened by the diagnosis. The Old Man sadly passed away in June 2018 at the age of 77.
A Legend Lost
After his father’s passing, Rick wrote on Instagram, “He lived a very full life and through the History television show ‘Pawn Stars’ touched the lives of people all over, teaching them the value of loving your family, hard work and humor. We appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers and ask that we are provided some privacy at this time.”
This was an emotional time for everyone, but many fans were stunned at Harrison’s final wishes. When he first wrote his will, he included his wife and all three of his sons as beneficiaries. But in the year before his death, Harrison made some slight changes that shocked everyone. There are a few unanswered questions that linger.
A Change in the Will
Upon reading Harrison’s will, fans noticed that he left one of his sons out if it. According to a section of the legal document that was released to the public, Harrison wrote, “I would like to express my love and affection for Christopher Keith Harrison; however, for purposes of this will, I have intentionally and with full knowledge failed to provide for him and his issue.”
For reasons unknown to the public, Harrison decided to leave his youngest son, Chris, out of the will. Many fans of the show had most likely never heard of Chris until Harrison’s death and the release of his will. Chris was the only member of the Harrison family who did not follow his father’s footsteps into pawning.
A Son Forgotten
While Rick and the rest of the Harrison family have not released the exact reasons why the Old Man left his youngest son out of the will, they did say that this decision did not come as a surprise. The Harrisons said that this was discussed before Harrison’s passing.
Although Harrison left his youngest son out of the will, he did go on to write that “I would like to express my love and affection for Christopher Keith Harrison.” It seems that Harrison and his son were not on bad terms, and the rest of the family stood by his ultimate decision. So why did he decide to refuse his son an inheritance? Fans have their speculations.
Prefer to Keep Private
Rick and his son Corey have expressed that this was a previously discussed decision among family and that they prefer not to release the exact reason to the public. Many fans have speculated that Harrison’s decision was motivated by the fact that Chris was not involved with the family business. Harrison wanted to include family members that took part in the success of a multi-million dollar business.
On the day of his father’s passing, Risk wrote on Instagram, “He was my hero, and I was fortunate to get a very cool ‘Old Man’ as my dad.” He continued by writing, “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.”
What Fans Have to Say
While the family stands by Harrison’s decision to exempt Chris from the will, what do fans think? The show has a loyal fan base, and many of them were surprised. After his death, many fans took to the Internet to express their curiosity. One fan wrote, “Sorry, I actually would like to know why he was left off. If he did not get along with the other brother or just did not get along with the dad.”
However, the family’s lawyers have remained tight-lipped. They continue to say that Harrison never provided a reason for his decision. While this frustrated fans, the Harrison family has asked for their privacy during this hard time.
His Legacy Lives On
Since Harrison’s passing, the show rightfully took a brief pause in filming between seasons so they could collect themselves. Fans didn’t know if the show was going to come back on the air, but Rick gave the green light for season 16. It seems that Pawn Stars is as strong as ever, and the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop will be around for a long time.
Harrison’s legacy will continue to live on through the amazing business he created, which is enjoyed by fans all around the world. Rick and Corey will continue to carry on the family name (with the help of Chumlee, of course).
Richard Harrison had a knack for determining the true value of antique items. Following is a story about a guy who bought a tank. Yes, a tank. And from eBay from all places. Check out his story.