Russell was born on September 8, 1982 in Henderson, Nevada.

As a child Russell became good friends with Corey Harrison, whose father, Rick Harrison, and grandfather, Richard Harrison, opened the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in 1989.

When Russell was about 12 years old, he was given the nickname "Chumlee" due to his large face and chin. The father of one of his friends once stated that he looked like Chumley, the walrus from the animated TV series Tennessee Tuxedo.

Chumlee began working for the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop at age 21.

Chumlee worked there for five years before filming the first season of the reality television series Pawn Stars in July 2009. His duties include behind-the-counter work at the shop, such as testing items, loading items, and writing tickets for items purchased by customers.

Chumlee emerged as the breakout cast member, and a fan favorite of the series. As a result of the show's success, he formed his own company selling novelty items of his own design and arranged his personal appearances. He sold half of his stake in the company in 2010 to Rick Harrison for $155,000, so that the shop could handle orders of his merchandise more efficiently. Chumlee's sales of merchandise have surpassed other stars of the show, due to his popularity.

By September 2013, Chumlee had altered his lifestyle habits and lost 75 lb (34 kg) in a year by exercising at a gym six days a week and improving his diet, including drinking more juice, eating more vegetables and abstaining from red meat, a change that was inspired by his father's death at age 54 from pancreatic cancer, two weeks before Pawn Stars debuted.

On March 9, 2016, Chumlee's home was raided during the course of an investigation into sexual assault allegations. During searches of his residence, police found crystal meth, marijuana, Xanax, and multiple firearms. Evidence of possible cocaine use was also found. Subsequently, Chumlee was arrested.

Chumlee was released on bond the following day. His first appearance in court was set for March 11, 2016.

On May 23, 2016, Chumlee was charged with 20 felony counts, including drug and weapons charges. David Chesnoff, Russell's lawyer, confirmed that the reality TV star pled guilty to a felony weapons charge (unlawful possession of a firearm) and a gross misdemeanor of attempted drug possession in a deal which calls for three years of probation and counseling.

In May 2017, Chumlee opened a candy shop, Chumlee's Candy on the Boulevard, across the street from the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas.