Rick Harrison: From Pawn Shop to Reality TV Star


The hero—owner of The Great Brain in question—lived in Utah and had these wonderful adventures that always centered on his ability to conjure a scheme that would make him money. He was a generous schemer, a con artist with a big heart. He'd do things like build a roller coaster in his backyard and charge to let people ride it, but there was always some twist at the end that caused him to have a crisis of conscience and give all the money back.

The Great Brain knew how to do everything: rescue friends who were trapped in a well; help a buddy deal with losing a leg; build that roller coaster. His world was my escape, my entree into a world outside the confines of my bedroom's four walls. I couldn't walk. I couldn't go to school. All I had were my ice packs and my books, so I made the best of it.

I have a very analytical, mathematical, calculating mind. I know I'm not supposed to believe in things like karma. But certain things have happened in my life that can't be explained by simple coincidence. How else can you explain the sequence of events and circumstances that led to me turning those bedridden hours—which should have been the worst hours of my life—into something that would provide a foundation for a life of curiosity and fun?

That's what happened. That's how profound the discovery of books was in my life. I didn't like school, but I loved books. Reading has been the basis of just about everything that came after. In that bed, I fell in love not only with books but with knowledge. The experience tapped into something I might never have found without the trying circumstances that led up to it. So much of the enjoyment I've gained from life has stemmed from a book—either researching some arcane item or reading to learn how to do something practical with my hands.

And how about the books I chose to read? Can it be explained away as mere coincidence that I chose a series of books about a kid my age who had an interest in making money and hustling to get it? I guess coincidence could explain it, and you're welcome to believe that. However, I have my doubts.

I was born in North Carolina, where my parents were raised. Their courtship was unlikely, to say the least. My mom comes from a very proper, accomplished Southern family. Her father was a county judge and eventually became one of the lead attorneys for Philip Morris in North Carolina. I have two cousins on my mom's side who work for Jet Propulsion Lab. My uncle was one of the lead designers on the space station and does satellite delivery systems. My cousins developed one of the first wireless Internet systems, which they sold for stock in an Internet company, unfortunately for them.

And my dad's side? Well, you might not be surprised to learn his family was a little less refined. They were dirt-poor white trash, left to survive on their wits for the most part. My dad was always a hustler, that's for sure. Old Man drove the school bus when he was fourteen. It apparently was legal to do that in North Carolina back in the 1950s.

That was the law: You had to be at least fourteen years old to drive the school bus. Can you imagine an eighteen-year-old being allowed to do that now? Old Man got paid for it, of course—five or six dollars a week. He parked the bus at his house every night; he got up in the morning, picked up all the kids, and then parked the bus at the school during the school hours. When school got out, he would drop the kids off and park the bus at home.

But he wasn't always a pillar of responsibility. When he was seventeen, my dad stole a car, and he got caught. He appeared before the judge, and the judge said, "Son, do you want to go to jail or the military?" I assume my dad, pragmatic guy that he is, didn't waste a lot of time pondering this one. He chose the military.

My parents met at a barn dance when they were seventeen, before my dad left to join the navy. How's that for Americana? My mom was dragged to this dance by her friends—she had no interest in going—and when she saw my dad, she was attracted to him because he was really, really tan from working construction jobs. She thought he was Latin, if you can believe that. If she'd known he was a backwoods hick, she might have never spoken to him.

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