Pauly Shore Was a ‘90s Icon but Then Vanished. What Happened?

Ah, the ‘90s. They were the best, weren’t they? Pauly Shore would definitely agree, since it was the decade that made him into an entertainment icon. It was the decade of Pauly, if you will, when he was on top of the world.

Pauly Shore / Pauly Shore / Sean Astin, Brendan Fraser, Pauly Shore / Shannon Wilsey, Pauly Shore.
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The son of Mitzi Shore (who owned Hollywood’s legendary Comedy Store) and stand-up comic Sammy Shore (who opened for Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra), Pauly Shore used his connections to make it onto MTV as a VJ. From there, he launched into superstardom, starring in movies and partying at the Playboy Mansion.

But just as quickly as he rose to the top, he also fell into Hollywood has-been hell.

A Childhood That People Would Be Jealous Of

In the early and mid-‘90s, Shore was everywhere – from MTV to the big screen. He was making movies like Encino Man and Bio Dome by day and selling out live stand-up shows by night. So, what happened? How did he go from movie superstar to C-List status?

Pauly attends an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Let’s start at the beginning. Born in 1968, Shore had quite a unique upbringing – one that any comedy fan would be jealous of. He was literally raised by comics. He was mentored by Sam Kinison and, by 17, he was doing stand-up comedy himself. He created a stage persona that he named “The Weasel.”

He Was Perfect for MTV

He was a privileged, slacker stoner who spoke in surfer talk, reflecting the ’80s Los Angeles scene he grew up in. It was perfect for MTV and the channel’s brand. Shore’s TV career began in 1989, when he started out as an MTV VJ, and, before he knew it, the Weasel was a hit.

A studio portrait of Pauly.
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In 1990, MTV gave Shore what was supposed to be a one-time summer show called Totally Pauly. But the audience loved it so much that they kept it going for four more years. Shore was seen doing street interviews, hosting spring break parties, and doing his own comedy sketches.

But His Weasel Character Got Old

MTV put Shore on the map, and by 1994, when Totally Pauly ended, his fame was at an all-time high. Encino Man and Son in Law – two box-office hits – helped push his Weasel character into the mainstream. For Shore, the sky was the limit.

Pauly poses for the press.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Shore’s Weasel persona got too big and he got pigeon-holed into a specific stereotype. “I was so popular in that style, so everybody thinks that’s who I am, and that’s who I was. And this is who I am now,” Shore said in 2014. By the late ‘90s, his promising career stagnated.

At the Height of His Fame, Tragedy Came

On the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, he told the host, “I was so big. And I think the bigger you are, and the faster you make it, the harder you fall.” After leaving MTV, he did the films In the Army Now, Jury Duty, and Biodome, but then Hollywood stopped calling.

Shannon Wilsey and Pauly pose for the press.
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

At the high point of his fame, something tragic happened in Shore’s life and it really put things into perspective for the young actor. His recent ex-girlfriend, Shannon Wilsey, committed suicide at the age of 23. Some might know her better as the adult film star Savannah.

His Ex-Girlfriend Shot Herself

Shore and Wilsey were together for a year but split up in late 1992. Still, they remained friends. Then, about a year and a half later, his ex shot herself in the head mere hours after reckless driving led her Corvette to crash into a tree. She was suffering from multiple injuries to her face.

A portrait of Wisley.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

At the time, in 1994, 26-year-old Shore held an interview with the Los Angeles Times, where he was supposed to discuss his latest film In the Army Now. Instead, he curled himself into a fetal position on the sofa. “You know what just went down, don’t you?” he asked the journalist.

“Don’t Become Your Character,” He Warned

“My ex-girlfriend, the porn star, just killed herself.” He said she was “the nicest, most beautiful girl I ever met. It was a very dramatic thing for me.” When asked why she did it, he replied, “She became Savannah. She became her character, who was into drugs, and needed reassurance all the time.”

A photo of Pauly in the street.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Shore revealed that he was with her when she died in Burbank’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. “That’s the main thing in this business: Don’t become your character. Grow up and learn. Life is your biggest teacher,” he said in the interview.

His Last-Chance Sitcom Didn’t Work Out

The sudden death came at a turning point in Shore’s career, when his movie persona was getting tiresome for viewers and he was trying to put this alter ego behind him. He was growing and his audience was too.

Pauly poses for the press.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

But it seems as though his audience didn’t need him anymore. Shore was offered a sitcom, called Pauly, which was basically Hollywood’s last handout to the young actor. The 1997 show was about Shore, who played a rich slacker named Pauly Sherman. In the end, it just felt like another version of the Weasel. And people were tired of it.

The Press Ate Him Alive

The show was taken off the air after only five episodes. Charlotte Ross, Shore’s co-star in the sitcom, blames the media for Shore’s downfall. She said that in all the interviews she held for that show, “I spent the first 10 minutes defending Pauly.”

Pauly attends a film premiere.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

The press was eating Shore alive. “I’ve never seen anything like that and I’d never wish that on my worst enemy,” Ross shared. And so, Shore had to find another way. He was offered roles, but mostly in the form of voiceover gigs.

They Only Wanted to Hear His Voice

Shore played George in Howie Mandel’s animated series Bobby’s World. From there, he voiced Bobby Zimmeruski in 1995’s A Goofy Movie and reprised it in 2000, with An Extremely Goofy Movie. He did characters on Casper: A Spirited Beginning, Casper Meets Wendy, King of the Hill, Father of the Pride, Dr. Doolittle: Million Dollar Mutts, and Animals.

A photo of Pauly Shore.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

It looked like Hollywood was only willing to accept Shore by his voice. But Shore didn’t take the hint. He just kept on trying. He tried to make a comeback by making a low budget mockumentary…

Pauly Shore Is (Not) Dead

Shore starred and directed in Pauly Shore Is Dead, and the plot was just as it sounds. Shore fakes his own death to get some popularity. It was actually full of celeb cameos, including Ellen DeGeneres, Eminem, Sean Penn, and Britney Spears.

An image of Pauly performing in a bar.
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The critics gave mixed messages. One called it “a flailing, potty-mouthed exercise in Postmodernism for Dummies,” while another said it was a “nearly great little nuance-filled comedy that could have been a real breakthrough.” In a way, Shore was ahead of his time, taking control of his brand without waiting for Hollywood to call him.

A Ladies’ Man

Back in the early ‘90s, Shore was something of a ladies’ man. In 1994, he told an interviewer, “I’m in a real weird situation as far as women are concerned. He explained that it’s “almost impossible for me not to cheat on a girlfriend because of the situation I’m in.”

Pauly poses backstage for the press.
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When he goes on the road, he’ll “meet this hot chick and she will want to be with me, or she won’t want to be with me but just hang with me. And I can’t handle the guilt of going home and seeing my girl and knowing that she’s been faithful and knowing that I haven’t.”

Remember? At the Playboy Mansion?

He concluded: “So, I can’t have a girlfriend.” That was in the mid-‘90s, though. Shore grew up but never shed the household name he made for himself decades ago. Whether he’s famous or a has-been, women have always made advances.

Pauly attends an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

At one point in 2014, Shore was signing autographs after a comedy gig when a drunk woman approached him. “Remember?” she whispered in his ear. He looked her up and down but didn’t recognize her. “What did we do?” he asked her. She replied, “What do you think we did? At the Playboy Mansion?”

Pauly Shore Stands Alone

For most of the late ‘90s and 2000s, Shore was spending his nights doing stand-up gigs at a Milwaukee comedy club, located in the basement of a strip club. So, it probably won’t come as a surprise that Shore has been propositioned by women he supposedly slept with 20 years ago.

A photo of Pauly performing on stage.
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All this was revealed in Shore’s 2014 self-directed documentary, Pauly Shore Stands Alone. And it’s pretty depressing. He was 46 at the time, and it showed how he would drive alone through the Midwest to perform in small markets for people who still remember him from Encino Man.

An Encino Man Sequel?

As of summer 2022, Disney+ is discussing a sequel to 1992’s Encino Man, according to Shore. He said that his co-stars Brendan Fraser and Sean Astin are also on board. “If they want me to do it and the script was right and Brendan and Sean were on board and it made sense, I would do it for the fans!” Shore shared.

Pauly sits in his truck after leaving a restaurant.
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Knowing a little more about Shore, it’s obvious why he would be interested in doing a sequel to the movie that made him a film star. The truth is, most fans would probably be at least interested in checking it out.

What About a Bio-Dome Sequel?

In 2021, 25 years after Bio-Dome came out, Shore and co-star Stephen Baldwin spoke about how they still want to do a sequel. Shore took to Twitter to post a video about the consistent requests he gets for doing sequels to his movies.

A picture of Stephen Baldwin and Pauly.
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The most common requests are sequels to Bio-Dome, In the Army Now, and Encino Man. He said that he and Baldwin can’t make it happen themselves – the fans need to let the studio know what they want. Time will tell if any of these sequels are going to come to fruition.

A Depressing Afterlife

He was making between $5,000 and $8,000 per gig (not too shabby) and would even click cthe seats himself to ensure that he was paid for every ticket. At the time, his mother, Mitzi Shore, was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Baldwin, Pauly, Joey Lauren Adams, and Teresa Hill pose in a studio portrait.
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To make ends meet, he was renting out his mansion (in Nichols Canyon). His life was very different from his days of fame, to say the least. He had an office at his mom’s work, the Comedy Store. His office was a mess, but a photo of his mom was a constant reminder of how she wasn’t going to be around much longer.

A Little Bit About Mitzi Shore

For those who don’t know, Mitzi Shore was a comedy legend. In the ‘70s, David Letterman baby-sat her kids (Pauly and his three siblings). Jay Leno slept on the stairs of her comedy club, and Jim Carrey was the doorman.

A dated photo of Jim Carrey and Mitzi Shore.
Photo by Robert Knight/Getty Images

Letterman referred to Mitzi as “the den mother” while others dubbed her the godmother of comedy. She turned open-mic comics into legends. She was both revered and hated, but the hate mostly came from those comics whom Mitzi didn’t “pass” at the Store. She died in 2018 at the age of 87.

Just Smile and Shrug It Off

When Shore was taking care of his mother in her final years, she could hardly remember who he was. His brother Peter took over the daily operations of the Comedy Store, but Shore helped out with bookings and still performed there frequently.

A photo of Mitzi Shore in her final years.
Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage/Getty Images

People often come up to him and ask why he doesn’t star in movies anymore. “And what am I supposed to say?” Shore said. “That I’m not super popular and I’m not starring in movies because Hollywood doesn’t want to give me movies?” So, he would just smile and shrug.

An Eyewitness to Comedy History

In 2022, at 54, he’s still performing in a one-man act he calls Stick With the Dancing: Stories from my Childhood. And boy, does he have lots of stories. “This is the stuff behind the curtain… everything leading up to right before I made it.”

A photo of Pauly heading to his comedy show.
Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images/Getty Images

As his mother was busy both fostering and feuding with comics, the young Pauly was on the sidelines, soaking in everything he could. Shore said his mom was “very loving,” but the Store and the comics usually came first.

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Practically raised at the comedy club, Shore said his childhood was “like being a kid in a candy shop,” – a shop that was “dark and red and smelling like Shirley Temples.” The Comedy Store was opened in 1972, when Shore was four years old – a year after his parents divorced.

An image of Pauly in a spring break MTV special.
Photo by Acey Harper/Getty Images

He remembers he limo – a “weird-looking limo.” Riding in it, Shore recalled, he always felt like they were the Addams Family. “But Mom loved being driven around. She always had comedians drive the limo.” Shore became fascinated with stand-up comedy when he turned eight and started spending most of his time at the comedy club.

Hiding in the Lighting Booth

Shore liked to hide in the lighting booth to watch comics like Redd Foxx and George Carlin take the stage. There was one comic named Lenny Schultz, who Shore said, “was a P.E. coach with a beautiful body, but he was nuts.”

A dated studio portrait of Pauly.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He remembers seeing Schultz bring food onstage and say, “The Lenny Schultz diet, what I like to do is put food on the parts of my body where I want to lose weight.” The man would then strip down to a Speedo and put cottage, milk, and fruit on his body. “My little jaw dropped,” Shore said.

Getting House Calls From Robin Williams

Shore said his first job at the Store was hosing down Lenny Schultz. But there was so much more. He would get house calls from Robin Williams. Shore remembers Williams running around the club “like the Tasmanian Devil.”

A picture of Pauly during an interview.
Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images

There was a time when his mother’s office was at their house, and after Williams started acting in the Mork & Mindy TV show, he would show up at the Shore house wearing the Mork outfit. According to Shore, his mom understood how sensitive comedians were, and she was kind to them.

Richard Pryor and His Mom Were, Um, Close

Richard Pryor, who rebooted his career at the Comedy Store in the ‘70s, became close with Mitzi. She took him under her wing, as Shore explained. “I know they had sex one time, but their relationship wasn’t a sex thing, it was a love-intimacy-respect thing,” he revealed.

An image of Richard Pryor during a stage show.
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Shore remembers the wave of energy when Pryor showed up to the club (“Richard’s here, oh my God, Richard’s here”). Shore would go and open the door of his car for the comic. Pryor would say to the little boy, “Heeeeey little man!” and shake his hand.

Watching as Richard Pryor Made His Comeback

Unlike other comedians, Shore explained, Pryor was gentle and not socially awkward. Shore would get him a Courvoisier once inside the club and watch as Pryor lit a cigarette, “and my mom would sit next to him on a staircase.”

Pryor poses for a studio portrait.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As Shore remembered, the audience worshipped Pryor, but there were times when he would do five minutes with no laughs. But he came to understand that this was how comics built their routines. “I’d go away for a little while, maybe a month at summer camp, and when I came back, he’d be doing 40 minutes and killing.”

After-Parties at the Shore House

After the Store closed for the night, comics would go to Shore’s home for after-parties. But little Shore was a light sleeper. From third grade until junior high, he would wake up in the middle of the night hear everyone in the living room.

A dated photo of Pauly during a party.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

His mom, Richard Belzer, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, and others would be drinking and smoking joints. “I’d open the door to a smoke-filled room and say: “Mom. Mom. Mom!” Mitzi would notice her son and go “Oh, hey, Pauly.” Shore would tell her, “Mom, I’ve got school in the morning, please.” But they would all laugh as soon as Shore left the room.

Get to Work, Pauly

When he was in high school, he wanted a 100-gallon saltwater fish tank, but his mom wouldn’t buy it for him. She told him to work for it. So, she gave him a job as the short-order cook on weekends at the Store. He started making friends with some of the comics.

An image of Pauly crouching down to kiss the hand of a female fan.
Photo by Acey Harper/Getty Images

Sam Kinison, who was working as a doorman at the place, was one of them. For anyone who knows the history of the late Sam Kinison, the man lived a rock and roll lifestyle.

Hanging Out With Sam Kinison

There was a point when Mitzi banned Kinison from the Store after he showed up “coked out with a gun, looking for somebody he had beef with,” Shore explained. Shore was hanging out with Kinison a lot and his mom hated the idea of it.

A still of Pauly interviewing Sam Kinison.
Source: YouTube

“We had this intense fight where she told me not to spend time with Sam. I said, “Mom, you don’t understand. I’m not hanging out with him for drugs — I’m hanging out with him because he’s a genius.”

His Mom Wouldn’t Let Him Perform at the Comedy Store

The day after that fight with his mom – over his friendship with Kinison – Shore got his own studio apartment and started his stand-up career without her. He realized that if he wanted to start a stand-up career of his own, he needed to leave.

A dated portrait of Kinison.
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Mitzi didn’t give her son any special treatment at the club. She actually refused to book him at the venue, that is, until he proved himself as a comic and succeeded elsewhere first. Mitzi once said, “He’s a good kid, Pauly. I just let him go. I let him [fail onstage]. I didn’t cater to him. He did it all on his own, Pauly.”

Starting Stand-Up at 17

Shore’s first time doing stand-up professionally was at the Alleycat Bistro in Culver City when he was 17. He was telling jokes that other comics wrote for him, and he even busted some dance moves on stage. He was doing every club in LA besides The Comedy Store, ironically.

A photo of Pauly performing on stage.
Photo by Clayton Call/Redferns/Getty Images

“I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, there’s Mitzi’s kid again.’ I stayed away from The Comedy Store for two years and then I finally went on at The Store in front of my mom.” It was a terrifying moment, he recalled.

He Sued His Brother

After Mitzi fell ill, Shore and his brother Peter took over The Comedy Store as co-directors. But in 2009, Shore sued Peter, alleging that he had unlawfully removed him as a director of the club. Shore claimed that when he asked his brother for accounting information, Peter had him fired.

A picture of Pauly and Peter at their mother’s club.
Photo by Vince Compagnone/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

He said his brother fired him by using his “undue influence” over their sick mother. At the time, “Mrs. Shore’s condition has rendered her susceptible to unscrupulous behavior and undue influence.” Peter remained on as CEO of the company and controls its operations.

Losing His Father

Shore’s father, Sammy Shore, died a year after Mitzi, in 2019, at the age of 92. Sammy’s career in comedy spanned seven decades. He and his writing partner Rudy De Luca founded the Comedy Store in 1972.

A picture of Pauly with his father, Sammy.
Photo by Michael Schwartz/WireImage/Getty Images

Sammy would present his son on stage, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve opened for Elvis Presley and Sammy Davis Jr., but tonight I’m opening for my favorite entertainer. Please give a round of applause for my son… Pauly Shore.” It was Sammy who took Shore to his first stand-up gig when he was 17.

Behind the Scenes of Encino Man

Back in 1992, the filmmakers of Encino Man had a movie deal but no script. While the script was being made, they started the casting process and Disney made it clear that they wanted the young, new comedian Pauly Shore.

Brendan Fraser is being groomed by Sean Astin and Pauly in a scene from Encino Man.
Photo by Encino Man Productions/Getty Images

The poodle-haired MTV VJ who spoke in dude slang was going to be perfect for the role. Peter Paterno, who ran Hollywood Records at the time, was sent the script. He told Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney’s big wig, “If you’re going to make it, you should make it with Pauly Shore.”

They Wanted Him to Play the Caveman

Katzenberg didn’t know who Shore was, whereas the filmmakers George Zaloom and Les Mayfield knew who he was but didn’t want him. They were all being convinced that Shore was their guy. “We met him at the Comedy Store and just really liked him,” Mayfield recalled.

A still of Brendan Fraser as a caveman in Encino Man.
Source: Copyright: Buena Vista Pictures

Funnily enough, they wanted him to play the caveman – Brendan Fraser’s part. But Shore wasn’t interested. He told them, “I’m not playing the caveman cuz cavemen don’t speak. They grunt. And I have a whole kind of language.” The dude had a point.

He Changed the Dialogue

And so, they rewrote the role for the best friend that finds the caveman. Shore was going to play Stoney, and he worked with the writers to incorporate his language and catchphrases. Screenwriter Shawn Schepps sat with Shore and would ask him what “nugs” meant, for example, or what “wheez” was.

A photo of Brendan and Pauly behind the scenes.
Source: Copyright: Buena Vista Pictures

“Not only did I change the dialogue, I changed the name,” Shore revealed. At first, the script called for two nerdy guys who find a caveman, but then it became “a nerdy guy that finds a caveman with his crazy sidekick friend Stoney.”

MTV Was Following Him Around on Set

Shore was often the center of attention while making Encino Man. His on-set presence was basically indistinguishable from his Weasel persona. “There’s definitely part of the Weas’ and part of my persona interwoven with the character of Stoney,” Shore said.

A promotional portrait of Pauly for Encino Man.
Source: Copyright: Buena Vista Pictures

He even had MTV camera crews follow him around the set. “I was still filming MTV the whole time. No one had ever seen that before.” Schepps said he “didn’t get Pauly” and that he thinks “he was probably stoned most of the time, anyway.” He liked him; he was nice but also a “weird dude.”

A Goofball on Set

According to the filmmakers, Shore would “improvise and just be a clown,” and was “all over the place… in a good way.” We can only imagine what making a movie with Shore in those days would have been like. But apparently Shore wasn’t wild with everyone on set.

A photo from the cast members of Encino Man.
Source: Copyright: Buena Vista Pictures

Jerry Ketcham, the movie’s assistant director, remembered that once he told Shore that he was the one would try to get him time off if he needed it – to only be on set when they needed him. Shore dropped the Weasel act with him specifically.

“Less Funny Than Your Own Funeral”

Encino Man opened in May of 1992, and critics had a field day with it. Despite the fact that The Washington Post declared it “less funny than your own funeral,” it was still a box office hit. A lot of it was due to the Pauly Shore-heavy TV campaign and comparisons to Wayne’s World.

A still from the film Encino Man.
Source: Copyright: Buena Vista Pictures

Encino Man earned its entire $7 million budget back in the opening weekend alone. The title of the movie was changed in some countries to California Man, as most people didn’t know what Encino even was.

The Talk of the Town

With the movie’s release and the critics’ reviews, Shore was the talk of Tinseltown. “Any actor would be lying if they said they don’t care what critics say,” he later shared. “I’m sure I took it personally. And I took it wrong.”

A photo of Pauly Shore and Rick Rubin during an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

“It was the beginning of the onslaught of critics coming after me.” Shore wasn’t the only one to make it after that film; Brendan Fraser was also a star, even though his other film, School Ties, came out around the same time.

The Happiest Time of His Life

After Encino Man, the same filmmakers made Son in Law and In the Army Now with Shore. “Despite what the critics said years ago, people know I put my heart into those films,” Shore said. Shore was on Joe Rogan’s podcast a couple years back, and he told the host that sometimes he watches his old movies and gets sad.

Pauly takes a picture with Joe Rogan.
Source: Pinterest

When Rogan asked why, Shore told him, “Because that was probably the happiest time in my life.” That appearance on the podcast led to an offer. Guest House director Sam Macaroni saw the podcast and cast Shore in his film.

Is Pauly Shore Gay?

The short answer is no. But there have been rumors swirling around as of late that he is. The truth is, he never got married. He did, however, have many relationships with women – famous and not. People have said that he’s dating Alex Noble, but, of course, this is only hearsay.

A photo of Pauly during an event.
Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Shore has not confirmed or denied it. He’s been linked to Deborah Laufer, Kylie Minogue, Brandy Alexandra, Jewel De’ngle, Jill St. Mark, Kina Tavarozi Midori, Jillian Grace, and Tiffani Thiessen.