Phil Robertson was the central character of the American reality-television series, “Duck Dynasty,” which made him and his family household names. His show has been called by many a cultural phenomenon, as it shattered cable TV ratings, and turned its popularity into a huge business enterprise. A&E became one of the most-viewed cable channels in the US just a year after this show was launched, but a few controversial revelations about him started a decline in the viewership. His appearance status in the series changed from the main cast member to a recurring member, up to the time it was canceled.
- 1 Who is Phil Robertson?
- 2 From Duck Commander to “Duck Dynasty”
- 3 Phil Robertson’s controversial GQ interview
- 4 Phil’s revelation about a daughter he never knew
- 5 The decline of “Duck Dynasty’s” popularity
- 6 Spin-off series in the works
Who is Phil Robertson?
Before “Duck Dynasty” became popular, Phil Alexander Robertson was just a regular family man, trying to earn a living for his wife Kay, and four sons, Jeptha, Willie, Alan and Jase. He was passionate about hunting and fishing which made-up his livelihood.
Early life and childhood
The patriarch of the Robertson family was born on 24 April 1946, to parents Jason and Merritt Robertson. Phil was from a poor family, sharing a simple cabin with six siblings in Vivian, a small town in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. While Phil was growing-up, his family encountered many difficulties; the house didn’t have the luxury of modern facilities such as indoor plumbing and electricity – he described it as living in the 1850s, not the 1950s. He was trained in acquiring what he needed to live by physically using his strength to survive. He also helped plant vegetables, took care of the cattle, and depended on the God-given wealth of the forest and the river to hunt for food. Despite the financial struggles, he said that he had a happy home.
Education and early career
Due to Phil’s gruff appearance in “Duck Dynasty,” many people were surprised to know that Phil was highly educated, and was also an All-State athlete. He had great stats when he played various sports in North Caddo High School, including football and baseball, as well as track. However, it was his great skills in football in which he was the team’s quarterback that paved an entrance to Louisiana Tech University, from which he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, after which he taught for several years in Louisiana schools, earning for his family’s upkeep. He attended more classes at night, and eventually earned a Master’s degree in Education.
A chance to be a pro footballer in NFL
For two consecutive years, he was a starter of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, and already attracted the attention of pro agents. However, playing football limited his other passion which was hunting, and it annoyed the hell out of him. When he was asked back then to play for a professional football team in the National Football League, the Washington Redskins, he declined the opportunity. Phil would often share the story of how his conversation went with a colleague back then, Terry Bradshaw, who became a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He advised him to pursue being a professional athlete since he had a great arm and a passion for the sport. Phil, on the other hand, had another priority in life, saying, ‘I’m going after the ducks full time. I’d rather hunt ducks than have large violent men stomp me in the dirt.’ He only used football as a way to earn his college education, but never had any aspirations to be a pro athlete. Terry, who is now a Hall of Famer, shared that Phil was the quarterback ahead of him who loved hunting more than the sport. The footballer said that Phil would come for practice directly from hunting, with duck feathers all over him, but no one complained since he had the best arm and an excellent shot.
Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson was the starting quarterback at Louisiana Tech from 1966-1967.
His backup? Terry Bradshaw
Robertson retired in 1968, telling Bradshaw "I'm going for the ducks, you can go for the bucks."
Bradshaw went on to be the #1 pick of the 1970 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/3saRJ6GaqZ
— Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) September 7, 2020
Personal life, wife, and kids
Phil married 15-year-old teen Marsha Kay Carroway, whom he fondly calls Miss Kay, on 11 January 1966. They had a 16-year age gap, but she bore him four sons: Willie Jess (CEO of Duck Commander), Marshall Alan (The Preacher), Jason Silas “Jase” (The Duckman/COO), and Jules Jeptha “Jep” (The Youngest). Sometime in his mid-20s, he was into several vices including alcohol, diet pills, women, and black mollies – a very dark place with a devil-may-care attitude.
There was even a time when he threw a woman across the bar, and had beaten up the couple who owned the bar; he was said to be quite violent when he was heavily intoxicated. Kay was able to convince the bar owners not to file charges, while Phil hid in the woods to avoid the authorities. Despite the unconditional love and support he had from his wife, he kicked her and their kids out of their home. The only upside to the story was that it didn’t take long for Phil to realize what was important to him, and begged Kay to come back into his life. Somewhere along the way, he found Jesus Christ, and made a 180-degree transformation.
From Duck Commander to “Duck Dynasty”
It was a well-known fact that the Robertson family lived off their land, and with Phil doing well as a teacher, everything seemed to be great at home. However, somewhere along the way, his family experienced a financial setback. At that time, he looked for another way to provide financial stability for his family, and his friends encouraged him to invent an official duck call. Many people already noticed that he had a way with ducks, and during hunting season, they all flocked to him because of his unique duck call.
Duck Commander, the Robertson’s family business
It was said that Phil gave up a coaching career to focus on inventing a variety of duck calls, as he was quite frustrated with the ones being sold on the market – he said that duck hunters should have a duck call that imitated the real sound coming from a duck’s mouth. Back in 1972, he came out with the first Duck Commander call, and it sold quite well for a beginner. During that time, he said that they sold $8,000 worth of duck calls in a year. He immediately registered a patent on that particular duck call, and a year later established his company called Duck Commander.
Initially, Phil used his residence as his factory, as most start-up businesses usually did. His production team consisted of his immediate and extended family; they assembled, packed and shipped the products themselves. To market his duck calls, he went from store to store to offer his invention, and oftentimes his proposals were rejected. To augment their income, his wife and children went into commercial fishing as a side business. Eventually, his duck calls became huge with hunters, and from there, his company produced other products including instructional videos about duck hunting techniques, and hunting scenarios from different seasons. It led to a reality-TV series.
“Duck Dynasty” – the reality TV show
There was a huge fascination with the Robertson clan, including their rugged fashion style. Most of them sported long hair and beards which matched their tough and manly demeanor. The patriarch, Phil, agreed to star in the reality-TV show to be called “Duck Dynasty,” which premiered on 21 March 2012 on the A&E cable network. It featured Phil, his wife Kay, and all his sons with their wives and children. It also included Phil’s younger brother, Si, who became one of the fan favorites in the show.
The family’s zany adventures became an obsession for their fans. The series dominated the ratings on cable television, and in the first season, more than 2.5 million watched the show. The viewership percentage wasn’t that huge as compared to the others out there at that time, but there was already a buzz about it. When the second season came in, it tripled the number of people watching – close to seven million viewers a week were glued to their show. It started the “Duck Dynasty” craze in the US, and by the third season in 2013, it was attracting around 12 million viewers every week. It provided an opportunity for everyone in the family, and they all benefited from the show’s popularity.
Phil Robertson’s controversial GQ interview
While Phil was the main reason his family became a phenomenon through “Duck Dynasty,” he was also the reason why the show attracted negative feedback. During one GQ magazine interview in December 2013, he made some remarks that made many people uncomfortable.
His homophobic slurs caused his suspension
When he was asked what was sinful, he said, ‘Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman, and that woman and that woman and those men.’ He also made disparaging comparisons between the vagina and the anus. The LGTBQ community was deeply offended, and the cable network which officially aired “Duck Dynasty” didn’t have any choice but to release a statement: ‘His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBTQ community.’ They also announced that they had put Phil’s status on an indefinite hiatus from the TV show.
Racist comments – whitewashed the African-American injustices in the South
Due to the overwhelming outrage about Phil’s views on homosexuality, many people didn’t at first notice the racist comments he also made, about the lives of many African-Americans in the South while he was reminiscing his childhood. He said, ‘I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them.’ He also said he never heard anyone complain about the white people. It didn’t go well with the African-American community, as they felt that he insulted their history as well as whitewashed whatever injustices black people encountered during that era in Louisiana.
Phil’s revelation about a daughter he never knew
Long before Phil converted to Christianity in the 1970s, and became a popular cast member of the reality-TV show, he was involved in many affairs. During one of the episodes in his podcast, “Unashamed,” in 2014, he revealed that he discovered that he had a daughter, Phyllis, from another woman.
Phyllis and Phil’s DNA test results
It all started when Phyliss sent a letter to Al, one of Phil’s sons, claiming that Phil could be his father. His sons talked to him about it, and researched the woman’s background. Al said, ‘And I thought, even if it’s not dad, she needs to know it’s not dad.’ Phil eventually did a DNA test to settle the matter, and the result came back with a 99.9% match with Phyllis. He immediately contacted her to get to know her better.
Phil’s wife, Kay, and sons’ reaction to Phyllis
Kay was never really bothered by the discovery, since she had seen it coming due to his wild philandering days in the past. She welcomed his daughter to the family, and her sons were excited to meet her – Jep even shared that it was just like a dream come true for them. Phil said that his wife had warned him over the years that someone would come out from his wild past to haunt him, and it certainly happened. Kay was glad, because she’d always wanted a daughter.
Introduced his unknown daughter to the public
Phil officially introduced to his audience his 45-year-old daughter through his podcast. It was such a surreal episode for everyone, more so for Phyllis, who only started her search for her real father after her son’s fiancée brought home a DNA kit. That day, she discovered that the siblings that she knew all her life were just her half-siblings. While she was full of questions, she wasn’t shocked, because she had suspicions while she was growing up. Her half-brother said, ‘Either our dad’s not your dad or everything we’ve been told isn’t true.’ She shared that her husband assisted her in the hunt for her real father, and with the help of the Internet, some of her questions were answered, leading to her discovery that Phil might be her real dad.
Phil’s long-lost daughter never watched “Duck Dynasty”
At the time Phyllis found out that there was a huge possibility that her father could be Phil, she thought long and hard about how to approach him. She hadn’t watched a single episode of “Duck Dynasty” before that and was apprehensive about it. However, she was surprised by how cool Phil was when she went to see him preach the gospel at the Robertson family church. There was no awkwardness between them and she felt that it was like a puzzle in which all the pieces just fit quite right. On the podcast, he told her, ‘Phyllis, all I can tell you is, I’m glad you found me. I’m glad I found you.’
The decline of “Duck Dynasty’s” popularity
While Phil was reinstated in the TV show, because there was also a huge outcry from his loyal fans for his indefinite suspension, “Duck Dynasty” never fully recovered from the backlash of his controversial remarks. He was relegated to just a recurring character, and was never promoted as part of the main cast again. They lost so many viewers each season from 12 million to 8.5 million after the controversy, and then it went downhill after that. During the sixth season in 2014, they lost 4 million viewers and another 2 million during the next season. That number stayed up to the ninth season, however, in the last two seasons, before it was finally canceled, it only generated 1.3 million viewers.
A majority of the viewers blamed it on Phil’s antics and politics. Some other TV analysts thought his controversial beliefs coupled with the brand’s overexposure and repeated content in their TV series made them incredibly boring.
Spin-off series in the works
It was reported that a spin-off series was poised to premiere in June 2022, called “Duck Family Treasure.” This time it will be aired over at Fox Nation, which in 2020 acquired the license to include the “Duck Dynasty” series on their streaming platform. Their subscribers loved the idea of the Robertson family back on the small screen; this time though, it would focus more on Jase, Jep, and their beloved Uncle Si, as they went on a hunt for a buried treasure. The TV executives also promised that the other members of the family will appear on the show. This would be the ultimate test – can they still bring back the former adulation of the American viewers”
Phil Robertson’s business was touted to have grown to a $400 million empire. Everyone was stunned at the way their popularity skyrocketed that fast; during its peak, Duck Commander sold over one million duck calls in a year. They had several product tie-ins including bagging that exclusive Walmart contract, in which they offered their merchandise including books, shirts, outdoor gear, and practically anything they can sell with their logo on it. It was a box-office hit like no other, and even the Robertson’s wives had a clothing line and a bag line. It raised the family’s net worth, making each of them multi-millionaires. The TV and retail industry thought that the “Duck Dynasty” craze would stay for quite a while, just as the Kardashians. Unfortunately, it was unknowingly sabotaged from the inside, by no less than the patriarch of the clan.