Rick Harrison says ‘Pawn Stars’ success is way more than he bargained for

Rick Harrison says he thought  Pawn Stars  would be good publicity.
Rick Harrison says he thought Pawn Stars would be good publicity. Joey L.

Whenever Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars gets to thinking that he’s seen it all, somebody walks into the world-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas with something that’s beyond belief.

What’s the wildest item anyone ever tried to sell there?

“Seven human skulls in a duffel bag come to mind,” Harrison said during a recent visit to Dallas. “The guy bought them in an auction from a dental school. Apparently dental schools use plastic skulls now, but they used to use the real things.”

Given that there’s not much of a resale market for human skulls, and given also that “the paperwork that gets turned in to local police departments and the FBI might set off some alarm bells,” Harrison didn’t make an offer for the bag of noggins.

There’s no knowing what the next “craziest thing ever” might be, but it will probably be immortalized in an episode of Pawn Stars, the hit History channel show that airs at 8 p.m. Thursday.

This week’s hourlong episode features a Hollywood auction and one of the world’s largest collections of Mickey Mouse memorabilia.

Pawn Stars is one of TV’s unlikeliest success stories.

Harrison initially spent four years pitching a pawnshop-themed reality show and getting nowhere.

“I figured that a show would mean free publicity and free publicity would mean more business,” he says. “But everyone told me that no one wants to watch a show about four fat guys in a pawnshop.”

Then History channel took a chance in 2009. Not only did Pawn Stars become a huge hit for the network, often topping the weekly cable ratings, but it spawned spinoffs (including History’s American Restoration, Counting Cars and Cajun Pawn Stars), international versions (Pawn Stars UK, as well as upcoming Australian and South African editions) and numerous copycats on competing networks.

After nearly 400 episodes, the show is still going strong.

Harrison was in Dallas two weeks ago to promote the show and sing the praises of Vascepa, a drug he takes to manage his triglyceride levels. He’s a paid spokesman for the Amarin Pharma product.

Harrison and the rest of the Pawn Stars gang — Rick’s crusty dad, Richard “Old Man” Harrison; Rick’s son, Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison; and Corey’s buddy Austin “Chumlee” Russell — will begin filming a new batch of 60 episodes in the next couple of months.

“All I was hoping for was a season or two,” Rick Harrison says. “So everything that has happened is beyond my expectations. It’s insane.

“I’m on television in 150 countries, in 38 languages. I have been mobbed by people in Buenos Aires, the Philippines, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi. Everywhere in the world, people know the show.”

He was right about one thing: The show has been great for business.

“We get 4,000 people a day in the pawnshop,” Harrison says. “Of those 4,000 people, probably 3,800 are tourists just wanting to see the shop. They want to get a ‘Chumlee for President’ T-shirt. I think he’s the best choice overall, by the way. Either party.

“We also get a lot of people who just want to be on television. But it’s definitely been good for business. We weren’t sure in the beginning if we’d have enough weird and unusual things coming in for the show. But the second we hit the air, weird things started coming in droves.”

Some of the rarities he has bought over the years include 16th-century maps of “the Island of California” (the handiwork of a Spanish cartographer who made a colossal mistake), a $50 gold piece from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (“the largest gold coin ever made in the United States”), and the cigar box that sat on President John F. Kennedy’s desk in the Oval Office (“the cigar box in JFK’s bedroom was full of Cubans, but this one had cigars from the Dominican Republic”).

Pawn Stars

▪ 8 p.m. Thursday

▪ History