Richard Benjamin Harrison Jr. rose to fame as “The Old Man” on the popular reality TV show Pawn Stars. On the series, the family patriarch was known for his cantankerous character, behaving with grouchiness befitting his role, as he described it, as an “old grump.” However, it appears that there was much more to Harrison than meets the eye.
Harrison came into the world on March 4, 1941. His place of birth was Danville, Virginia. His family heritage was Irish, though his grandma would claim strong links to their native United States’ history, insisting that they were related to the presidents Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison. However, Harrison indicated that he didn’t believe that the link was true.
At just one year old, Harrison and his family relocated to Lexington, North Carolina, moving into the house at 115 Peacock Avenue, which was situated off South Main Street. He would go on to attend Lexington High School, but it would appear that Harrison was not suited to formal education. So he dropped out in his junior year.
Harrison’s family was far from wealthy. As a result, he started working at a young age. By 14 he was employed as a school bus driver, earning around five or six dollars per week. Each night, he would park the large yellow vehicle outside his home, ready for his early morning shift collecting children and delivering them to their classes.
At 17 Harrison met Joanne Rhue at a barn dance. She came from a well-to-do North Carolina family as her father was a county judge and top attorney at the tobacco company Philip Morris, which had a factory in Concord, NC. However, his future son-in-law didn’t always respect the law.
Before Harrison and Rhue were wed, he was arrested for car theft. Harrison was subsequently forced to choose between a stint in jail or joining the military, so he opted to sign up to the Navy. Harrison and Rhue subsequently tied the knot in 1960 and welcomed their first child, a daughter named Sherry, soon after.
Sherry had Down syndrome. So while Harrison left the Navy in the winter of 1962, he reenlisted just over a year later so that he could provide care for his daughter. In 2014 he told Navy Times, “My daughter had medical bills… I’ll be honest with you, I couldn’t afford the medical.”
As a result, it was decided that Harrison would return to the military. He explained, “Me and the wife talked it over, and I went back in the Navy. I enjoyed it.” Sadly though, Sherry passed away when she was just six years of age. However, Harrison remained in the military for a total of 20 years.
During his impressive naval career, Harrison worked as a paymaster and ultimately became a petty officer first class. In 1967 Harrison was transferred to San Diego, California. And while he continued to serve in the military, his wife Rhue earned her real estate license, eventually opening her own office in 1973.
As part of his naval work, Harrison spent time on four ships, including five years on the ATF 100 U.S.S. Chowanoc tug in the mid-1970s. While on the Chowanoc, Harrison was away for long stints at a time, being deployed to Vietnam and the western Pacific, as well as many periods in which he was away at sea.
It was these long periods away that proved most difficult for Harrison. As a result, he later told Navy Times, “I spent 14 years onboard ships, and I was gone a lot… That’s the only thing I didn’t care for.” He added, “Out of 20 years, I was deployed about ten… That’s a lot of time.”
With that in mind, Harrison decided to retire in 1979, after 20 long years in the Navy. If he hadn’t left then, he would probably have been deployed once more. And at this point in his life, Harrison was unwilling to leave his wife and their three sons, Joseph, Rick, and Chris, for extended periods.
Explaining his reasoning behind his decision to retire from the military, Harrison told Navy Times, “The only reason I got out was that I had three teenage boys, and the wife couldn’t handle them.” As so Harrison returned to his spouse and their three sons, Joseph, Rick, and Chris, joining Rhue’s business and working part time in her real estate office.
However, as interest rates skyrocketed to 18 percent, real estate sales went down. The slump in business cost Rhue and Harrison $1,000,000 and led to the downfall of their real estate business in 1981. At this point, the family was left with just $5,000 to their name, so they opted for a fresh start.
Harrison moved with his family to Las Vegas, Nevada, and opened the Gold & Silver Coin Shop with his son Rick. These premises, at 1501 Las Vegas Boulevard, were just 300 square feet in size, and by 1986 the business had outgrown the shop. As a result, the Harrisons moved to a larger spot at 413 Fremont Street.
A year later, in 1987 Harrison got his license to trade in second-hand goods. And while the lease for the Gold & Silver Coin Shop would expire in 1988, the Harrison family would eventually go on to establish themselves as some of the most famous pawnbrokers in the entire country.
It all began in 1989 when Harrison and Rick opened a business at 713 Las Vegas Boulevard South, which would become known as the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The premises were located no more than two miles from Las Vegas’ heaving Strip. And it wasn’t long before the store took off.
The World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop shop was open 24 hours a day. And by 2005 the Harrisons were loaning out approximately $3 million per year, earning them a cool $700,000 through interest income. In particular, the Harrisons were known for carrying specialist sporting items with unique backgrounds.
For instance, they held Brock Williams’ New England Patriots Super Bowl ring from 2001. But at the other end of the scale, Rick’s son Corey revealed the business also served gamblers who pawned their belongings just to get by. As of 2010 most items brought to the Harrisons were jewelry.
Harrison played a large role in the everyday running of the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It was reported that he was the first person to arrive on-site each morning. Furthermore, as of 2010, he hadn’t had a day off sick since 1994. But it was Rick who had the idea of creating a show around their business.
Harrison had tried for four years to flog his idea of a show featuring the exploits of his pawnshop until Leftfield Pictures approached him with a similar idea. Pawn Stars was finally picked up by the History Channel in 2009, featuring family patriarch Harrison, his son Rick, grandson Corey and Corey’s friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell.
The show would make household names of Harrison and his co-stars. In fact, it proved so popular among audiences that it soon became History Channel’s highest-rated show in 2011. What’s more, Pawn Stars was also the second-most popular reality series after Jersey Shore.
Pawn Stars follows the everyday running of the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It features interactions with customers, during which staff evaluate visitors’ items and discuss their historical significance. However, it also depicts the personal conflicts between cast members.
With that in mind, TV Guide described the show as “one part Antiques Roadshow, a pinch of LA Ink and a dash of COPS.” And Harrison’s role was often the antagonist. Because, while he didn’t say much, he gained a reputation for having a short fuse. Known as “Old Man” on the show, Harrison reportedly said, “My role on the show is to be an old grump.”
However, despite his tough on-screen demeanor, it seems that there was a softer side to Harrison. In fact, his bio on the Gold & Silver Pawn Store website once read, “He may come off curmudgeonly but is a sweetheart like no other.” It continued, “He is wonderful in his wisdom and awesomely adorable.”
Harrison was awarded the key to the city of Las Vegas in 2010, alongside his co-stars. He was also given the key to the city of his hometown, Lexington, on May 28, 2012, by Mayor Clark Newell. That date was also dubbed “Richard Harrison’s Day,” much to the modest Old Man’s delight.
According to local Lexington newspaper The Dispatch, Harrison had told those who attended his key giving ceremony at City Hall, “I’m just an old Southern boy.” Speaking of his fame, he added, “We never thought the show would go like it would. I feel good. I’m really honored.”
However, not all the attention that Harrison received was positive. In May 2012 Daniel Callahan filed a claim against Harrison and Rick in the Las Vegas District Court, accusing them of not providing “reasonable and necessary” security at their business. He was seeking approximately $20,000 for injuries he claimed he’d sustained after he’d been “dragged out of the pawn shop and tossed onto the sidewalk.”
However, Harrison’s grandson Corey later defended his dad and grandfather to the press, claiming they’d had no direct contact with Callahan. He subsequently alleged that Callahan had become “absolutely irate with a weapon in his hand.” So, Corey claimed, “It was in our best interests to get him out of there.”
In another legal issue, History Channel, A&E Network and the cast of Pawn Stars were sued by Wayne F. Jefferies, who accused them of interference with business practices. Jefferies had been the Harrisons’ manager and claimed that he had been instrumental in launching their show. However, he said he had been phased out of the series and had not received his promised share of fees and merchandising royalties.
But controversies aside, Harrison remained a much-loved member of the Pawn Stars cast until it was announced that he had retired from the shop in July 2017. Just under a year later, on June 25, 2018, Harrison passed away aged 77. The sad news was confirmed on Instagram by his son Rick, though it came as a surprise to many Pawn Stars fans.
Unbeknown to most people outside of Harrison’s close family and friends, he had been battling illness for some time. Writing on Instagram in June 2018, Rick revealed, “Today I lost a friend, a father, a teacher and so much more. The Old Man lost his long battle with Parkinson’s this morning. Love you, Dad. See you on the other side.”
In a further statement, also posted to Instagram in June 2018, Rick added, “Richard Benjamin ‘The Old Man’ Harrison passed away this morning surrounded by those he loved. He will be tremendously missed by our family, the team at Gold & Silver Pawn and his many fans the world over.”
Continuing to pay tribute to Harrison and the influence he had on him, Rick said, “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.”
Rick added, “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.”
Harrison was subsequently laid to rest at his funeral in July 2018. His casket was adorned with the American flag, in tribute to his time in the Navy. However, later that month a detail emerged regarding Harrison’s last wishes that would likely shock even his biggest fans. That’s because it was reported that he’d left one of his sons out of his will.
According to the Blast Harrison’s youngest son Christopher had appeared as a beneficiary in a previous will but was cut off before the patriarch’s death. The new document allegedly read, “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.”
It’s not clear why Harrison cut Christopher from his will. When asked about the matter, Rick – who told charge of his late dad’s estate – told Fox News, “The family had previously discussed this information and it is a private matter.” It was also not revealed how much Harrison’s estate was worth.
Harrison’s life was subsequently celebrated on Pawn Stars in a tribute episode called “A Treasure Remembered.” The show featured some of Old Man’s most memorable moments and also featured interviews about his life. But when a family photograph was shown in the episode, it was noted that Christopher’s face had been obscured.
Nevertheless, Harrison will always be remembered as the lovable grump at the head of his pawnbroking family. And in 2014 he revealed his life philosophy to Navy Times. Harrison said, “Don’t dwell on the past – you’ve got a life ahead of you… Live it to the fullest. Don’t waste your time thinking about the past – the past is over.”