The Tragic Truth About ‘American Chopper’


What if the worst moment of your life became nothing more than a punchline to millions of people?

That’s exactly what happened to American Chopper stars Paul Teutul, Sr. and Paul Teutul, Sr. The epic onscreen fight they had was all-too-real, and it resulted in years of legal drama and family tragedy. But to many who have never even seen the show, that moment is nothing but a funny meme format involving a chair getting thrown.

As a reality show, even the biggest fans of American Chopper often assume that what they see onscreen is fake to some extent. However, much of the tragedy was quite real, and we’re going to get to the bottom of the tragic truth behind this iconic show.

The show was almost completely different

While the Teutuls are the heart and soul of American Chopper, they aren’t the creators of the show. Instead, the reality show was created by Craig Piligian. And in an amazing interview with Forbes, the creator revealed that the show was almost completely different.

Originally, Piligian was going to focus on a different New Hampshire bike shop. After determining that shop lacked “the right mindset,” he began shooting with the Teutuls. This led to a kind of revelation: “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.”

This revelation changed the face of television, and it certainly changed the lives of the Teutuls. But by focusing the show on the family’s relationship, Piligian almost completely destroyed that relationship.

A real “family feud”

American Choppers was consciously built around family drama. As a result, audiences regularly saw the Teutuls fighting one another. But what most folks don’t realize is just how serious some of the onscreen feuds could be.

The most famous fight, and one that become an equally famous meme, involved Paul Jr. getting a dressing down from dad because Junior was sleeping in and showing up to work late. The scene involved a lot of screaming and chair-throwing, and it culminated with Senior saying “And don’t f—in’ bother coming in tomorrow because you’re f—in’ terminated.”

At the time, it may have looked like they were blowing up the conflict to create drama for the camera. But the fight was real, and Junior really did get fired, creating much worse drama once the cameras stopped rolling.

Behind-the-scenes legal drama

Paul Senior really did fire his son. As Design By Joyce reports, this resulted in TLC taking legal action. Why? Because they had a contract requiring a certain amount of family members to remain on the show (a key clause for a show focusing directly on the family).

At first, the solution seemed simple: Paul Senior and Paul Junior drew up a new contract that specified Junior was now an independent contractor. This made TLC happy, but Junior wasn’t happy when his father tried to take advantage of their new contract.

Junior didn’t realize the new contract gave his father the chance to buy his son out of his stake in the company. After a few months, Paul Senior tried to do this, and Junior fought back. Eventually, Paul Senior tried to sue his son for one million dollars, but Junior took his fight to the courtroom and won, allowing him to keep his shares.

Other legal drama

The epic legal fight between father and son was already bad enough. However, Paul Senior ended up in many other lawsuits since then.

For example, early in American Chopper, they had Cody Connelly serving as a shop hand. Cody came up with an idea for an awesome bike that the shop worked on and ended up selling. As a reward for his hard work, Cody was supposed to receive a different bike that he had also helped to design.

However, TMZ reports that Cody never got the bike he was promised, so he filed a lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages. Cody was also irked (rightfully so) that the show continued to use his image in promotional materials long after he left. 

Mikey finds his own problems

On the show, baby brother Mikey often had to keep the peace between his hot-tempered father and brother. Eventually, Mikey was forced off the show and went to pursue different interests (and possibly avoid those flying chairs).

For example, he opened the Wolf Gang Art Gallery in 2010, but he closed it after only two years. He later started selling gourmet pasta products under the name FarQueue Products, which has been a modest success, though nowhere nearly as successful as Paul Junior’s post-show ventures.

Easygoing as he is, Mikey nonetheless found some legal drama of his own. Page Six reports that a Pennsylvania photographer named Scott Gunnells sued both Mikey and Paul Senior because they used an image of Mikey as a promotional image. Gunnells had copyrighted that image and the judge sided with the photographer, meaning that Mikey and his father had to cough up $258,484.45 for using the artwork without the photographer’s permission!

Wedding woes

For all of the family drama, Paul Junior ended up being the big winner. He is running a very successful bike shop of his own, quite independent of Paul Senior and Mikey as they try to relaunch their brand (more on this in a minute). And shortly after he left the show, Junior married American Chopper model Rachael Biester.

Unfortunately, the timing could have been better. The marriage happened while Paul Junior and Senior were still involved in their legal dispute. As a result, Celebrity Bride Guide confirms that Paul Senior skipped his son’s wedding altogether.

Recent financial struggles

If you’re sad about the fallout between father and son, don’t be. The two eventually reconciled their differences, starring together in the eleventh season of American Chopper. However, it seems bringing Junior back on board may have been more out of financial desperation than a need for an emotional reunion.

Back in 2018, Paul Senior had to file for bankruptcy. According to Page Six, he owes 50 creditors almost $1,071,000, and this is on top of $1.8 million he owes in “fee interest” on his home. At the time of filing, he also owed over $151,000 in taxes. And since he was facing down eight lawsuits when he filed for bankruptcy, things were likely to only get worse.

Things don’t seem to be much better for Paul Senior’s legendary bike shop, either. The shop now has a YouTube page, and on that page, both Paul Senior admits that the shop is “in the pit” and “in the bottom of the hole.” Instead of doing glamorous work for celebs, the shop is working on “repairing quads, snowmobiles, and cars” as well as “restoring garage finds” to make ends meet.

As a result of financial woes, Mikey and Paul Senior tried to launch a new show based on their shop and crowdfunded via Patreon. Unfortunately, Patreon yanked their fundraiser for not meeting community guidelines, so the future of the show, the shop, and their very lives is still in the air.

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