Rick Harrison: From Pawn Shop to Reality TV Star

Rick Harrison takes readers behind-the-scenes in new book "License to Pawn."

ByABC News via logo
March 22, 2011, 7:49 PM

June 6, 2011— -- In his new book, "License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver," reality TV star Rick Harrison describes his journey from opening Las Vegas's famed famed Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, to stardom on the hit reailty show, "Pawn Stars," and the hard-knocks he faced along the way.

Harrison and his family, son, "Big Hoss," and dad, "the Old Man," became unexpected reality TV stars when their store became the subject of "Pawn Stars," now the highest-rated show on the History channel and one of the highest-rated shows on cable TV.

In the book, Harrison shares his personal and professional struggles, from the epileptic seizures he suffered beginning at age eight, to the serious challenges he and his family faced opening their now-famous store, and dealing with the subsequent fame.

He also gives readers an inside glimpse into the pawn business, vividly recounting the story behind the shop, the colorful customers, and the curious items for sale.

Read an excerpt from "License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver" below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library

Chapter 1

The Storm In My Head

I was eight years old, lying on my bed, when the world turned upside down. All of a sudden, no warning, without me moving, the floor became the ceiling and the ceiling became the floor. My head buzzed and crackled like a thousand power lines, and the world tilted on its axis. Slowly at first, then faster, until I was no longer aware of any of it.

I awoke later. I don't know how much later. I didn't know what had happened. My tongue felt like hamburger and my body felt as if it had been beaten with hammers. My legs were stiff and painful, my back hurt and my head held the residual buzz of whatever Category 5 electrical storm had struck it.

My parents' room was downstairs. My only thought was to get there; they would know how to handle this. My legs were cramped and constricted. I tasted blood from my shredded tongue. I was scared and confused and tired and just so goddamned scared. I got to my parents' room and knew from the looks on their faces that everything would be different from this point forward.

My first grand mal epileptic seizure, and the countless ones that followed, would define my childhood and much of my life. They struck violently and without warning. They struck mostly at night, and thankfully never at school. They struck with such severe force that I accepted it as a given that I would not live into adulthood.

Surely, at some point, one of these vengeful, raging attacks would cross the line. It would hit with all its wild, paralyzing fury, and I would simply never regain consciousness. From the time the seizures became a regular part of my life, I resigned myself to the idea that they would eventually kill me.

They altered my life in nearly every way. Whenever one hit, I would be out of school for as long as ten days. The muscle pulls were so painful and severe that I could do nothing but lay in bed with ice packs on my hamstrings and quadriceps.

It was there, in that bed in our suburban home in the Mission Valley section of San Diego, that my life changed again. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't move more than a few inches without pain. I didn't have a television in my room. Video games and iPads hadn't been invented. I was left to my own devices.

So I read books.

A lot of books.

I fell in love with a series of books called The Great Brain. These were the first books that captured my imagination. Written by John D. Fitzgerald, about a ten-year-old boy named Tom D. Fitzgerald, narrated by a younger brother known as J.D., The Great Brain allowed me to escape into a different world, a world I couldn't have. I would lose myself inside the pages.

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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