Duck Dynasty is a reality show about the Robertsons, a Louisiana family that made a fortune through their Duck Commander duck calls and branded hunting equipment. The show was a success beyond anything its network A&E could have anticipated, breaking rating records and turning the bearded Robertsons into widely-recognized media figures almost overnight.
The family’s success and image depends on the public perception of them as salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing rednecks. Though family patriarch Phil Robertson actually has a master’s degree in education, he seemed to fit his stereotype at least politically when, in 2013, he was suspended by A&E for a controversial GQ interview in which he compared homosexuality to bestiality and observed that he’d never heard any black people complaining about mistreatment. The suspension was lifted, however, when the network noticed that most fans and corporate sponsors stood by the family and their series despite the public outrage.
Though the series remained mostly escapist entertainment glamorizing the purportedly down-home lifestyle of the Robertsons, ratings never quite recovered, perhaps because the family – and in particular Phil – had become irreparably politicized. Though his politics may be well-known now, there are still plenty more dark secrets and troubling quotes from the Robertsons that both Duck Dynasty’s former network and stars don’t want you to know.
15. It’s Not Real, Only “Guided Reality”
The Robertsons may be a real family, but most of their onscreen antics have always been at least somewhat fabricated. The New York Times reports that even during Duck Dynasty’s first and second seasons, family members openly acknowledged the falsified nature of their popular series, calling it instead “guided reality.”
This means that instead of simply following and filming the Robertsons as they lived their daily lives, producers would invent a situation and outline its parameters with the family before having them act it out to completion. Far from being slow-witted hicks, in this way, the Robertsons proved themselves as skilled improvisers and entertainers, which, along with their indifference to the term “reality,” helped turn them into the perfect media icons for our post-truth era.
14. Phil Was an Alcoholic
Phil Robertson wasn’t always the devoted patriarch and business owner depicted on Duck Dynasty. As the show gained in popularity, Phil and other family members have gradually opened up about his past struggles with alcoholism and adultery, stressing the redemptive nature of his particular rags-to-riches story.
When he was in his 20s, Phil worked for several years as a teacher before managing a bar while his fledgling family was still living out of a trailer. His wife Miss Kay says she told the children, “That’s not your daddy. That’s the devil in your daddy.” Phil’s rock bottom came when he booted his wife and children out of the home for questioning his drinking, ironically accusing Kay of cheating on him. She confesses she thought of ending her own life during this dark period, before Phil pledged to quit drinking and recommitted to his family and faith.
13. And He Was Violent
During this same period, Phil often participated in bar brawls, one of which almost resulted in serious legal trouble. On the night in question, he was drunkenly arguing with the couple who owned the bar he managed when the conversation came to blows. Phil’s son Willie wrote that he threw the woman across the bar and beat the couple up “pretty badly.”
Phil narrowly escaped the police after the brawl, and spent the next four months (approximately) hiding in the woods. Somehow, Kay convinced the hospitalized landlords not to file criminal charges against her husband, though they still took out a restraining order against him. Even sober, Phil could still be a touch violent, though in a totally different context. His youngest son Jeb wrote that he frequently punished his children with “three licks on the butt from his belt,” quoting scripture to back up his disciplinary technique.
12. Jep Was Sexually Abused as a Child
Duck Dynasty stars Jep and Jessica Robertson revealed a host of unsavory details from their lives in their 2015 book, which boasts the unwieldy title The Good, The Bad, and the Grace of God: What Honesty and Pain Taught Us About Faith, Family and Forgiveness. Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that Jep was sexually-abused by an older female classmate from the age of six.
“She’d take my hands and push them up under her shirt and tell me I was tickling her. Then she started making me pull down my pants. It was awkward,” he writes. “I became more and more confused and scared.” The girl became more violent and aggressive as time went on, so Jep started pretending to be sick to stay home from school. He still has trouble speaking openly about his experiences with family members other than his wife.
11. Jep Has Had His Own Addiction Problems
Much like his father, Jep struggled with alcoholism, as well as a few more serious drug addictions, through his teens and 20s. He would reportedly take anything anyone offered him, including “a whipped cream can…or LSD in some weed” or something called a “wet daddy” – a joint soaked in formaldehyde.
Jep’s own low-point came the morning after a college party, when he woke “sprawled on the side of a gravel road,” covered in bloody scratches and with no memory of where he was or how he got there. Soon after, his family staged an intervention, but it wasn’t the last addiction he’d confront—also in their book, Jep and Jessica attest that their marriage had to withstand the test of his pornography addiction too.
10. Phil Is Not A Fan of Atheists
Everyone already knows that Phil Robertson doesn’t espouse the most progressive views when it comes to folks of other races and homosexuals, and the same goes for his attitudes towards atheists. In 2015, he gave a lengthy speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) – from whom he received the Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award – in which he told his own parable about an atheist family man with “a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters,” who are then bound, raped, shot, and decapitated by criminals while he is forced to watch. “And [the criminals] can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged?’”
Phil also spoke out against A&E’s faith-based censorship of Duck Dynasty, alleging that the producers had bleeped mentions of Jesus’ name from their broadcasts and characterizing it as a form of “spiritual warfare.”
9. Phil Thinks STDs are Punishment for Promiscuity
Phil doesn’t seem to have sympathy for the sexually promiscuous, either. Also during his 2015 CPAC speech, Phil suggested that STDs were God’s way of punishing horny non-believers, calling their continued prevalence “the revenge of the hippies” and ascribing monogamy as the simple solution.
He made the theory even more explicit in an interview that same year, saying:
A clean guy — a disease-free guy and a disease-free woman — they marry and they keep their sex between the two of them. They’re not going to get chlamydia, and gonorrhea, and syphilis, and AIDS. It’s safe… Either it’s the wildest coincidence ever that horrible diseases follow immoral conduct, or, it’s God saying, ‘There’s a penalty for that kind of conduct.’ I’m leaning towards there’s a penalty for it.
8. Willie’s Lust For Fame Caused Tension
After Duck Dynasty became such a surprise success, rumors circulated that different members of the Robertson family disagreed about how best to capitalize on their newfound fame. Phil’s son Willie Robertson assured Parade in 2013 that the show had actually brought the family “a whole lot closer” and that “nobody gets a big head because we’re doing it all together.”
In contrast to that idyllic version of events, In Touch reported later the same year that Willie’s rather-bigheaded desire for fame was indeed creating a rift among the family members. Their anonymous source alleges that he had previously courted reality TV stardom by trying out for Survivor and The Amazing Race. “When the family is resistant to Willie’s ideas, he says they don’t see the big picture,” said the source. “The truth is they just don’t care as much.”
7. The Family Has a History of Mental Illness
Alcohol abuse isn’t the only unfortunate trait that runs in the Robertson family. The show rarely references Phil and Si’s mother, who were diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder and spent time in several mental health care facilities while they were growing up. She struggled with suicidal thoughts, as have Phil’s grandson Reed Robertson and Si’s son Scott.
In his own tell-all book, Si revealed that his own mind can be “faulty,” due in part to post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Vietnam, and that Scott was suicidal from the age of five and tried to jump out a second-story window at the age of 11. He was later diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and despite his refusal to ever appear on Duck Dynasty, has made public appearances advocating for those on the autism spectrum.
6. Phil Was in a Steve Bannon Movie
Phil’s conservative political stances have earned him a fan in the form of Breitbart editor and former Trump Cabinet member Steven Bannon — so much so, in fact, that Bannon made him the subject of his latest independent documentary, entitled Torchbearer. The 2016 film is as propagandist as Bannon’s previous films, which have also spotlighted the purported strengths of Sarah Palin and the America-destroying evils of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Most of the film is comprised of a single oratory speech from Phil in which he argues for the necessity of keeping the US as a Judeo-Christian republic — which seems to directly contradict his earlier comments of support for the separation of church and state. During the election cycle, Phil came around to supporting the Bannon-backed Trump only after his preferred choice of candidate, Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race.
5. Phil Helped Elect US Rep. Vance McAllister… For One Year
Long before endorsing President Donald Trump, Phil endorsed yet another candidate for political office with no prior experience – Vance McAllister, who was elected as a Louisiana representative to Congress in a 2013 special election. This was thanks in large part to an endorsement from Robertson, who actually joked that McAllister’s lack of experience was a point in his favor.
After the election, McAllister was quickly embroiled in a scandal over an extramarital affair that dominated his short time in office. He lost the seat only one year after winning it, this time coming in fourth place, and without another endorsement from Robertson. Instead, he supported his own nephew in the race and criticized McAllister for not standing by his supposed values of God and family.
4. Phil Thinks Women Should Marry Young… Really Young
In 2009, shortly before Duck Dynasty was picked up by A&E and became a basic-cable sensation, Phil was quoted making a few more potentially problematic statements, this time about women – specifically finding one who can cook and locking her down as early as possible:
They got to where they getting hard to find, mainly because these boys are waiting till they get to be about 20 years old before they marry them. Look, you wait till they get to be 20 years old the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16.
Perhaps Phil meant only that young men and women should begin building life-long relationships earlier in life, as he and his wife-slash-high school sweetheart did, but in either case, he should have chosen his words a lot more carefully.
3. They Aren’t Big On Hygiene
In many ways, the Robertsons don’t quite fit the stereotypical perception that the public holds of them as honest-to-God rednecks, but there are a few exceptions. For one, they’re about as worried about cleanliness and hygiene as one would expect from a family of committed outdoorsmen.
“There’s not a lot of personal hygiene going on,” Phil said of his family during an interview with Men’s Journal. According to him, the men in the Robertson family never comb their hair (neither beard or regular), rarely shower or wash their faces, and they brush their teeth only once a day, come night time. The once-impoverished Robertsons may be multimillionaires now, but hey, at least they have retained some of their hillbilly credentials.
2. How They Kill Ducks
For a show about a business empire devoted to duck hunting, Duck Dynasty sure was diligent about downplaying any actual animal violence onscreen, preferring to focus on the Robertson family’s interactions instead of their hunting techniques, lest they scare off squeamish viewers. Nonetheless, the show and its stars have drawn criticism from noted animal rights groups and advocates like PETA and singer-songwriter Morrisey, who cancelled an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! because of their presence.
Before they made the big time, viewers could see the Robertson’s duck-hunting techniques in greater, more grisly detail on their YouTube series “Duck Men.” The most extreme example occurs in an episode where one family member can be seen killing a live duck by biting down on its head.
1. The Beards Are For Their Brand
The Robertson men didn’t always sport the unruly facial hair that became an integral part of their reality TV brand and image, helping to characterize them as real rugged rural types. Near-unrecognizable pre-beard photos of the Robertson men, most of whom were clean-shaven well into adulthood, have surfaced again and again online.
The family has never acknowledged that the beards may be solely to build their brand, though many speculated they would shave them in the wake of the series finale. When confronted on the subject, Willie said he didn’t plan on shaving, but expected that his brothers Jep and Jase might once the show had concluded. He was right about Jase, who just recently shaved his beard for charity, but wrong about Jep, who cut his hair but kept the beard.
Do you know any more dark secrets the Duck Dynasty stars want to keep buried? Let us know in the comments.
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