When it premiered in 2003, few could have predicted thatwould shape the future of reality TV, but programs like, and the slew of home-renovation and cooking shows that crowd the dial today all fit the competition-driven, drama-rooted model that didnt exist untilroared onto the dial. Perhaps the hardest thing to believe aboutof weird stuff has happened on and off screenis that all the fighting, cursing, crying, welding, and painting was real. Heres the untold truth from behind the scenes of the show.
In his bookThe Ride of a Lifetime, Paul Teutul, Sr.discusses his 15-year drug and alcohol addiction, which ended when he went to rehab on the advice of his wife in 1985. Somehow, she talked me into going into rehab, something I thought Id never do, Teutul says in the book. But I wanted to have one last good drunk. So the day before I was set to go into rehab, I got totally plastered. I drank a half-gallon of wine, a pint of brandy, and I took six Valiums. While Paul Sr. was ultimately able to stop his drinking, his sons Mikey and Paul Jr.both had issues with drugs and alcoholin their young lives. Paul Jr. went to rehab at age 16.
Fights between the Pauls were a regular occurrence on the show, driving much of the onscreen drama. But themost heated argument ever captured on camerahappened in 2009, when achair-throwing Paul Jr.was dressed down by his father for sleeping on the job and showing up late. On one hard, its exactly the type of nerve-wracking drama the shows network, TLC, wants, but in this case, the row became irreconcilable, with Paul Sr. screaming at the end of the fight, And dont fin bother coming in tomorrow because youre fin terminated. Surely the networkas well as viewers at homethought this, like so many others of their arguments, would blow over. As fans know now, it didnt turn out that way.
In an interview withForbes,American Choppercreator Craig Piligian revealed that hed initially centered the show on another bike shop in New Hampshire, but after a phone conversation, he decided they didnt have the right mindset, so he changed his plans. Within two days, Piligian and his crew were shooting with the Teutuls, and it wasnt long after that that Piligian had another realization. What we started to see was that it was a relationship show more than it was a build show. The bike was a by-product of the relationship with the father and the son. It just came out of nowhere and was hugely successful. It was the first family docu-soap, he said.
Piligian even admitted that after a while, he was moldingAmerican ChopperafterI Love Lucy, meaning he viewed the show as more of a sitcom than reality show in which they would make simple conflicts the center of each episode. I decided we should make the loglines real simple: Junior goes missing. Mikey doesnt show up. Thats what we built the show around. Simple loglines. It was the inspiration for the whole show, he said. So, what was the logline for the infamous chair-throwing meltdown: Production company ruins family for ratings?
After the 2009 fight, Paul Jr. was, in fact, terminated by his father, causing TLC tofile a notice of defaultbased on Jr.s absence from the show. In order to honor their contract with TLC, certain key members of OCC needed to remain employed and on camera. In response, Sr. and Jr. drew up a new contract making Jr. an independent contractor (appeasing TLC). Paul Jr. lasted a matter of months as a contractor, but the new contract gave Sr. the option to buy out Jr.s stake in the company for a fair market value determined by a neutral party.
And things got uglier from there. Sr. flexed his contractual option to buy Jr. out, which Jr. fought. Paul Sr. thensued his son for $1,000,000 in damages, hoping to bully his son into selling his share. Again,Jr. fought back in court, eventually overturning Sr.s evaluation of his shares, andkeeping his stakein the company. Its really kind of sad, because despite their constant bickering, the show displayedmoments of great kindness and reconciliationbetween the father and son. It would appear, at least for now, that a decent relationship between the two was impossible.
No stranger to the courtroom at this point, Sr. is once again facing legal troubles, this time from a suit filed by a former business partner, Thomas Derbyshire, who claims he got screwed over on the development of a new TV show. According toTMZ, Derbyshire claims he financed a new show, starring Paul Sr. calledOrange County Choppers: American Made, in which he invested $1.8 million for a 51% stake in the company, only for Sr. to turn around and try to renegotiate a 50/50 split just as production was beginning.
According toLaw 360, Derbyshire claims that instead of using his invested funds towards production of the show, Paul Sr. mostly paid expenses connected to his custom-motorcycle shop. Derbyshire also claims Paul Sr. misrepresented the financial well being of the shop, claiming it was making enough to keep itself afloat, when in reality, it was actually operating at a loss. Yikes. If those accusations are true, it sounds like Seniors far from his heyday of buildinggold-plated choppersfor Donald Trump.
Remember what we said back there about Paul Sr. knowing his way around a courtroom? Well, go ahead and add running a Ponzi scheme to the list of things hes been accused of since his custom bike shop shot to fame. According toThe Miami Herald, Venezuelan businessman Angel Briceño and several other investors have filed lawsuits, claiming they were duped out of a collective $12 $15 million dollars in investment money towards what they believed was going to be an Orange County Choppers restaurant chain. They claim, however, that Paul Sr., along with wealthy investor, Carlos Urbaneja, sold the same project to three or four groups of investors, and at times issued shares in paper companies that had no value at all.
The investors claim they were courted by Urbaneja, who furnished them with luxury accommodations during negotiations, and by Paul Sr., who at the time around 2011 was enjoying the height of the popularity of the show, and who allegedly allowed them work out of his headquarters in Newburgh, NY for five days. In response to the allegations, Urbaneja has said that the lawsuit has no merit and that he would be filing a motion to dismiss it. Paul Sr. has yet to comment.
Founded in 2010after fulfilling his yearlong non-compete with Sr.Paul Jr. opened up Paul Jr. Designs, based in Rock Tavern, New York. But early on,a tragic incidentoccurred at the new shop when a 26-year-old man from the nearby town of Beacon fell through the roof and died. The man was not employed by Paul Jr. Designs, but had been contracted to repair the roof by the buildings owner. In a statement, Paul Jr. said, This was a tragic accident and, although Ive never met this man, my deepest condolences and prayers go out to his family and friends.Neither Teutul nor his regular shop employees were therewhen the man fell, but it couldnt have been easy to have such a horrific accident happen only a few months into starting a new business.
The same year Paul Jr. spun off from OCC, he married Rachael Biester, a model hed met on an episode ofAmerican Chopper.She can be seen here on the left, in a yellow jumpsuit, posing as a McCuff Girl. In advance of their August 20, 2010, wedding, thecouple appearedon, not surprisingly, TLCs showSay Yes to the Dress, andeven met with a cheffrom TLCsCake Bossto really hammer home the fact that TLC keeps the Teutuls lights on. One person, however, didnotattend Paul and Rachaels wedding: as their battle in court over Jr.s stake in OCC raged on, Paul Sr.chose not to go, even though he was invited.
In 2014, a Florida man named Christ Tavantzis suedamong 29 other defendants associated with OCCPaul Jr. and Sr.for copyright infringement. Tavantzis, who suffered from polio and was wheelchair-bounduntil his deathin February 2016, claimed that at a bike show in 2008 he pitched the idea of a handicap-accessible, three-wheel motorcycle to members of the shop. Tavantzis contends thatthis bike, which theAmerican Chopperteam built at thebeginning of 2010in conjunction with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, was a ripoff of his original idea, for which Tavantzis held a patent.
In this clipfrom theAmerican Chopperepisode about the bike, Paul Sr. can be heard saying, Such a unique thing that I think that we did for our company and for the people who are going to appreciate it. As far as the lawsuit goes, unfortunately for Tavantzis, his complaint against Sr. and his 29 co-defendants fell into the category of something called ashotgun pleading, which basically means it was worded in a way that was confusing, repetitive, and did not clearly separate which defendants supposedly committed which wrongdoing. This resulted in the case beingdismissed without prejudice, meaning Tavantzis would have the opportunity to revise his lawsuit and submit an Amended Complaint within 14 days. As of this writing, it is unclear what has happened with the case after that initial dismissal, but if the guys from OCC really did steal a motorcycle idea from a man with poliothen profited from a television episode touting the idea and the benefits it will have for the handicappedthats definitely dirty business.
OCC andAmerican Chopperhave always balanced any tension and screaming with comic relief, coming mostly from Mikey Teutul, the cheery, heavyset shop fixture and youngest Teutul son. If reality stars can be seen as semi-fictionalized characters, theMikey personais strikingly similar tothe Chumlee characteron the History Channels showPawn Stars.
While his father and brother were settling their differences onscreen and in court, Mikeys energies shifted from the shop to other schemes. In November 2010, he openedWolf Gang Gallery, an art gallery that showcased, among other works, his own paintings. He closed Wolf Gang two years later tofocus on his family and health. A year after he opened the gallery, Mikey tried a different venturethis time concentrating on his other love, food: helaunched a line of gourmet pasta saucesunder the company name FarQueue Products, which carried flavors like Porcine Orgy Sausage Supreme.
Before making its way onto sister channel TLC,American Chopperfirst aired on the Discovery Channel in March 2003. By that point, OCC had already been building bikes for four years. Fans of the show will remember the very young and patient shop hand Cody Connelly, whod spent two years before the the shows premiere cutting his teeth with OCC. Just before the first episode aired, the team was building what they called The Cody Project motorcycle, which was sold for an undisclosed sum at Daytona Bike Week in 2003. Because of his hard work, Cody was gifted a different chopper (you can see the clip here) that he helped designbut in alawsuit, Connelly claimed he never received the old-school chopper Paul Sr. promised. On top of everything, Connellywho sought $250,000 in damagesclaimed that OCC continued to use his likeness on promotional materials after hed left the company.
In recent years, OCC has been dogged by persistent rumors that the company is in dire financial straits and headed for foreclosure. More than five years since the last episode ofAmerican Chopperaired, its easy to understand why fans or members of the media might assume the worst when word got out the companys Newburgh, NY headquarters were being soldbut as it turns out, OCC doesnt own the building, they only leased it. As Paul Sr.told listeners on the local radio station WPDH, when the owner of the building went into foreclosure, it wasnt a reflection on OCCs stabilityalthough they are having struggles of their own.
In an interview posted to OCCsYouTubepage, Sr. and Mikey admit that the company is not in a great place financially. Sr. describes the position of the legendary bike shop as in the pits and in the bottom of the hole. He cites his own mismanagement of money as well as ballooning overhead costs that came along with the expansion of the business that was a result of the popularity ofAmerican Chopper. But now that the show is over and the big corporate projects arent rolling in, Sr. says theyre taking on any work that they an get just to pay the bills, like repairing quads, snowmobiles, and cars, as well as restoring garage finds. Hes even gone into his own pocket over the past three years just to make payroll. This is just an idea, but maybe there are obvious ways they could rein in costlike, say, getting rid of thebowling alleyinside the shop. That seems excessive.
During theabove interviewin which they spell out their financial woes, Paul Sr. and Mikey also announce their intention to start a new OCC-based show, using the crowdsourcing platform, Patreon. Claiming it would give them more creative control, Mikey and Sr. struggle to define their unrestricted vision for the new show other than to say they would be blowing stuff up and asking fans for what theyd like to see.
Though the Patreon accounthas been removedfor not complying with Patreon Community Guidelines,American Ironreported on what viewers could get for a direct contribution towards OCCs new show. For $10/month, they would get exclusive access to shows ahead of the general public. For $25/month, they would get access to a 24 hour livestream of the shop as well as the opportunity to livestream episodes of the show and take part in a Q&A session afterwards. For $250/month, they would get a monthly live video chat with Paul, Sr. Their initial goal was $6000, and its unclear if they ever reached it, although they did start producing shows which can be seen on theirYouTubechannel. Their most recent upload was about a year ago and its a one-minute clip of Cousin Nick falling out of a ceiling and onto Paul Sr.s desk, so its already going pretty great.
While his dad and the crew at OCC may no longer be getting hit up for flashy builds, Paul Jr. is still snagging some high profile projects. In 2016, he completed two bikes for the summer blockbuster,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Out of the Shadows. Even more impressive? He did it without concept art. In fact, according toduPont Registry, thats how Jr. does all of his design work purely from his imagination. They never do anything without drawings, but they trusted me and my process, Jr. said of working with director Michael Bay and the films production company. Jr. also said that he was only contracted for one bike, but when he finally delivered it, Bay liked it so much he asked for a second bike.
Around the same time as the foreclosure rumors started swirling, strange reports surfaced suggesting Paul Sr. had died in a motorcycle accident.According to , on April 18, 2016, the website Iron Demons doctored a real article about another mans death in a motorcycle crash in Louisiana to make it look like it was Paul Sr.s death. After that, people started posting on social media andmessage boardssending their condolences, and the whole hoax spiraled from there. Somebody even madethis crude YouTube videoabout the death. OCC finallyresponded on Facebook, insisting, Paul Sr. is alive and well!
In an interview with theSOS Radio Podcast, Jr. got surprisingly candid about his faith, and how his rededication to living by christian principles led him to a more meaningful relationship with his wife, Rachael Biester. As weve previously mentioned, Jr. and Biester met during the taping ofAmerican Chopper, and though he says that hes always been a Christian, at the time he met Biester, she was not, and that he was not really doing the right thing by living with her before marriage. While he was still having doubts about the relationship, he attended a weekend retreat during which he received some sort of clarity from God. Apparently embracing a newfound faith of her own, Biester suggested she move out, during which time they abstained for nine months and Jr. proposed. Jr. says they honored God and each other during that period and that their relationship has been strengthened by their faith. Theres a blessing in obedience, he says.
And he wasnt just talking the talk. Jr. became actively involved with benefits for PR Ministries, and even did speaking engagements alongside his wife forchurch congregations. He isavailable for bookingas a Christian speaker, and has heavily incorporated his faith into his upcoming book,The Build: Designing My Life of Choppers, Family, and Faith, which the description says is a rallying cry to unleash God-designed creativity and live life to the fullest. Wed say God is definitely Jr.s co-pilot, but that would seem like a bit of an understatement.