A Merchant Marine at the age of 18, Paul Teutul Sr.’s life hasn’t always been a pleasant journey, with his mother drinking heavily as the reality television star grew up. And in recent years, things have also been somewhat challenging, as Paul Teutul’s finances fell to pieces. It’s been rather quiet around him – but soon, the TV celebrity might be back on track.
So how did Paul Teutul Sr. become a reality television star? And what is the 73-year-old doing today? This is all you need to know about him!
Becoming a celebrity is the dream of millions of people around the world. But, whether it’s being an athlete, actor, dancer, entertainer, or any other kind, reaching the absolute top requires hard work and dedication.
Paul Teutul Sr. – ‘American Chopper’
But for some, fame comes through a whole different path. For example, Gordon Ramsay and Emeril Lagasse were great chefs at first. And when television networks wanted them to cook on television – or help restaurants back on their feet – they became celebrities known worldwide through their occupation, which at first might not be seen as a celebrity job.
But in the world of television, there are hundreds of different ways to become famous. Some have a very special or unique family, others – like Rick Harrison – a famous Pawn Shop, while others have a great skill in customizing motorcycle bikes.
That’s when Paul Teutul Sr. comes in, the big star on Discovery’s reality television show American Chopper. Alongside his sons, Paul “Paulie” Teutul Jr. and Michael Teutul, he became a global celebrity through the show, which aired for the first time back in 2003. Before that, he made a great name through his custom motorcycle fabrication company Orange County Choppers located in Montgomery, New York.
After ten years – and plenty of drama – American Chopper was canceled by Discovery. But that didn’t stop Paul Teutul Sr. from continuing with his passionate work for motorcycles. However, through the years, he’s also been having some financial issues, which ultimately left him bankrupt.
So what is he doing these days? Let’s take a look!
Paul Teutul Sr. – troubled childhood
In his book Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls, Teutul described how his parents beat him regularly.
“I’d be sitting there, struggling through my homework, crying after getting smacked, my lip bleeding. Then if I got hit when I didn’t deserve it, my father, rather than saying he was sorry, would yell, ‘That’s one for the next time,’” he recalled.
Growing up, Paul had no aspirations whatsoever. His strict upbringing in Yonkers had a bad influence on him. At age 12, he also started drinking. Teutul went to Pearl River High School – as his family moved to Rockland County – but it didn’t bring him any new ideas about what he wanted to do with his future.
One thing, however, was that he had always had a love for motorcycles. But it would take some time before his dream came to life.
When he turned 18, Paul Teutul Sr. joined the Merchant Marines. There, he got a whole new perspective on life and his attitude toward work.
“[The boot camp] was like three months of it, not, six weeks. So it was pretty difficult, you know, being 18 years old and being away from home. It was hard for me, you know, to be able to be away and to be able to stick with that and stay there,” Paul told CNBC.
“I think what I did was I challenged myself… I really wasn’t much of a runner and I really didn’t like running. And where I was there was a dock way down the other end of where I was, and I said to myself if I could run all the way down, and all the way back, then I could make this. And I think.. that’s what inspired me to follow through with it.”
Paul Teutul Sr. – marriage, children
After a stint with the Merchant Marines, Paul Teutul Sr. returned to civil life. In 1969, he had found true love, marrying Paula, with whom he stayed married for 26 years.
Paul and Paula share 4 children: Paul Teutel Jr., Dan Teutul, Michael Teutul, and Christin Teutul together, some of whom would be very much involved in their father’s later success.
Family life put Paul’s passion for motorcycles on hold. Then, in the 1970s, he began building his empire, constructing bikes from the ground and up. Teutul Sr. dug a hole in the back of his yard, cut a door, made a ramp out of steel, and got the bikes down to the basement.
“Most of the time I would take a bike and I would customize it,” he explained. “I built a bike, and I took it out, and people were just all over the bike. I knew I had something at that point.”
At the same time, Paul was struggling with inner demons. Just like his mother, he was a heavy drinker, and in the mid-1980s, his wife and children split with him. But the eldest son, Paulie, shared his interest in bike design, so the two began building and customizing choppers together.
While starting the Orange County Ironworks, a steel fabrication company, others noticed how impressive his chopper modifications were. Building choppers became an excellent meditation for him. As he recalled, he took his last drink on January 7, 1985. And ever since, Paul Teutul Sr. has stayed sober.
“That was a significant turning point in my life,” he said. “I learned that I did have choices, and I think that, that’s part of, you know, kind of led me on the journey to get to where I am now.”
Launch of ‘American Chopper’
Motorcycle magazines suddenly wanted to know more about Teutul’s business. It grew constantly, and in the early 2000s, Discovery Channel gave him a call, offering Teutul a show.
In 2002, American Chopper premiered on Discovery Channel. But, as with any reality television program, it wasn’t only about choppers.
The show also focused on the relationship between Paul Teutul Sr. and his son Pauley. But after the first episode, the father of four was more than annoyed.
The relationship was portrayed as quite fiery, and both Paul and Pauley thought Discovery Channel had betrayed them. He later wrote that he thought they were made to look like fools, as he had expected a more documentary-style production.
“I called [producer Craig Piligian] early the next morning, before the overnight ratings came out,” Paul Teutul Sr. recalled. “I cleaned his clock on the phone. ‘You’ve ruined my life,’ I screamed, ‘and my career. I didn’t expect this.’”
Piligian tried to calm Paul down and told him to wait for the ratings. Teutul’s mood changed drastically.
A flood of congratulations and messages reached Paul’s email in the morning, and the 1.2 percent viewer market share was terrific for a 10 P.M. Monday time at which American Chopper aired. The viewers obviously loved the drama between the father and his son.
Paul Teutul Sr. accepted that his relationship with his Paulet was to be fully displayed. It didn’t take long before American Chopper had become a worldwide hit, and made Paul a celebrity. His themed choppers at Orange County Choppers in Rock Tavern, New York, were a big attraction, and the success followed them into the second season.
The first episode of their sophomore season registered a 2.9 household rating, with a total of 3.5 million viewers, the largest audience ever.
The relationship between Paul Teutul Sr. and his son Pauley was a big part of American Chopper. Their conflicting styles often led to arguments, and in 2008, an explosive argument between the two led to Teutul firing his son. Instead, Pauley opened up a competing shop named Paul Jr. Designs.
Paul Teutul Sr. even sued his son to acquire his 20 percent interest in Orange County Choppers. However, he ended up losing the lawsuit, according to Distractify. It was the first known lawsuit Teutul was involved in – but not the last.
Paul Teutul Sr. – financial problems, bankruptcy, net worth
“This road that we’re on is only going to lead to one place. All this passion and pride brought us together. And drove us apart,” they said in the show’s intro. “It only makes sense that this ends where it started. With the build.”
After two years, the spinoff got canceled, but in 2018, Senior and Pauley made amends. They buried the hatched for the reboot of American Chopper.
“We sat down and talked about it,” Teutul Sr. told the New York Post. “Listen, stuff happens: People have their own way, what they believe and how they perceive it, and he perceived it one way and I [perceived it] another way. So who wins that argument? Nobody.”
The revival of American Chopper didn’t become a success. It only lasted for one season. Moreover, the TV celebrity had other problems.
In 2018, PageSix reported that Paul filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. At the time, Teutul Sr. claimed that he owed around $1 million and was only worth $1.8 million. Moreover, Paul Teutul Sr. reported that he made around $15,000 per month but spent $12,600 to keep up with his lifestyle.
In May of 2018, Paul Teutul Sr. disclosed his finances where he claimed that he only made $16,500 at the time. Additionally, he reported that his expenses exceeded his income at around $20,000 a month and owed $150,000 to the town of Crawford, New York, for taxes.
Before that, in 2017, his former business partner had sued him for fraud.
In April 2019, PageSix obtained court documents showing that Paul “failed to provide [her] with a copy of a federal income tax return or transcript for the most recent years, to 1it, 2017 and 2018.”
Now, he’s said to have a net worth of around $500 thousand.
Moreover, documents stated his current budget “indicates a negative cash flow which clearly demonstrates that [he] will not be able to make any Chapter 13 plan payments.”
A representative for Teutul said it was “untrue.”
His home in Montgomery, New York, was in foreclosure until he sold it in June 2019.
Paul Teutul Sr. has not only built bikes. Also, he’s spent his time helping others.
With the OCC Foundation, Teutul helps raise money for charities such as Make A Wish and Iraq Star. Speaking on the podcast Eric Rogell Talks with Warriors, Lovers, Kings, and Heroes, the American Chopper star shared a heartwarming story about how they honored the last wishes of two terminally ill fans.
“I think you always have to remember where you came from,” he said. “I think you need to be humble and stay true to who you are.”
Opening a new restaurant
“We support the Make a Wish Foundation – it’s terminally ill kids, and basically, they get a last wish, and we were number one as far as their wish which is. Which I think is pretty impressive,” Paul Teutul Sr. told CNBC. “You know, to come here and see … bike guys. When I talk about making a difference in people’s lives, pretty much that’s what I refer to. Because I think when these kids come here, it breaks your heart.
“But the thing of it is they’re here because they want to be with you, they want a part of you,” he added. “It’s their dream. So, to me it’s an honor, to be able to do that, and I think I get more out of it than they do.”
As of the latest, however, it seems like Paul Teutul Sr. is back on his feet. Through his Instagram page, he posts many pictures of himself and his girlfriend, Joan Bulger Kay, and in June of last year, his new project was set to go. Paul then opened up a motorcycle-themed restaurant and a museum in Clearwater, Florida.
The restaurant will feature several of the custom choppers viewers have seen on American Chopper. And also, inside the new OCC Roadhouse and Museum, some of their custom motorcycle shop’s best work will be featured.
“Nothing was laid out here…we did it piece by piece,” Teutul said.
“I really like the fact that this is like a final resting place,” Teutul continued. “People will get to see this and they’ll get to enjoy it.”
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