Who is Atz Lee Kilcher?

Having shot to fame on Discovery Channel’s “Alaska: The Last Frontier”, Atz Lee Kilcher is a reality show star who gained popularity from showcasing his hunting and fishing talents. Born, Atz Lee was born to Atz Sr. and Leandra Carroll on 26th August 1977, in Alaska, USA, and has three siblings: Jewel, Shane and Nikos Kilcher.

Alaska: The Last Frontier

The reality cable television series “Alaska” is one of the Discovery Channel’s most popular offerings, having been on air since 29th December 2011. By documenting the lives of the Kilcher family – descendants of Yule and Ruth Kilcher, Alaskan pioneers with Swedish roots – the show’s producers have allowed the general public a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at another way of living.

Foregoing what many consider basic necessities such as modern heating, the Kilcher clan survives by farming, hunting, and fully preparing for harsh and long winters.

The Kilcher family is made up of Otto, Charlotte, Atz, Bonnie, Atz Lee, Jane, Eivin, Eve, and Shane, and Jewel has made cameos in the show.

The show’s first season was a huge success despite running for just three episodes. The first thrilling installment followed the devastated Kilcher clan as they went on one last hunting trip before winter, after discovering that wild bears had killed some of their cattle. In episode two, the family raced against the clock to finish preparing for the eight-month-long winter season, but were ultimately left unprepared after a newborn calf and its mother disappeared in the last episode.

Thanks to rave reviews, “Alaska” returned in October 2012 for fifteen more episodes. Despite being faced with a lack of food and the brutal elements, Otto and Atz embarked on an ambitious aid mission to help out their fellow homesteader, which made for a nerve-wracking season premiere.

After surviving winter, the clan went on spring hunts, fished for king salmon in the open seas, and milled lumber, with their every move being followed by cameramen.

Over the years, fans have been kept on the edge of their seats thanks to the Kilchers’ unusual lifestyle. The show’s popularity peaked in 2014, year that it was nominated for two Emmy Awards – one in the Outstanding Cinematography For Reality Programming category, and another for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. A year earlier, “Alaska” won the Communicator Awards’ Award of Distinction. On 28th September 2020, Discovery announced that they would be renewing “Alaska” for an additional three seasons.

Family Legacy

Julius Jacob Kilcher, later known as Yule Forenorth Kilcher, was born in Laufen, Switzerland on 9th March 1913. and relocated to Alaska as a young man. Following a brief stint in his country of birth at the age of 26, Yule settled down permanently near Homer, Alaska.

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A cultured individual, Yule studied comparative philology and archeology in Berlin, and claimed to have worked in Poland, North Africa and the US as a journalist. During his travels, the Kilcher patriarch learned how to build log houses, which helped him set off to Alaska with the aim of “founding an idealistic community”. Yule changed his name and received 160 acres of land in the Kachemak Bay area outside of Homer. In 1939, he returned briefly to Switzerland in an effort to persuade others to emigrate to Alaska.

In 1941, Yule married Ruth Weber, an American citizen originally from Pratteln – they had eight children who were raised on the family homestead: Atz, Otto, Wurtilla, Fay, Catkin, Stellavera, Mossy, and Sunrise. The family’s “self-sufficient, natural lifestyle” meant that they lived without running water and grid electricity.

The first documentaries of homesteading life, “The Last Frontier” and “A Pioneer Family in Alaska”, were produced by Yule himself, and produced on 16 mm film.

From 1947 to 1948 and 1956 to 1958, Yule travelled Europe and showcased his documentaries. Other life achievements include his election to the Constitutional convention, for Alaska, in representation of the Kenai Peninsula.

During the course of his political career, Yule also held the Democratic Party’s State Senate seat from 1963 to 1966, considering himself a “man of the people” and part of his party’s “radical” wing. Keeping in life with his philosophy, Yule advocated for nature conservation, and was part of the first expedition to cross the Harding Icefield from Homer to Seward.

While Yule travelled for work, Ruth and the children were left in charge of the homestead. The couple divorced in 1969, the same year Ruth moved to Tennessee and began working as a writer, journalist, and translator. Two years later, she remarried in New Mexico.

On 8th December 1998, Yule passed away peacefully of old age. Tony Knowles, the Alaska governor at the time, ordered state flags to be flown at half-mast on the day of his funeral.

What is Homesteading?

The Homestead Law was passed in 1862, making it possible for people to receive federally owned land if they met certain requirements, and could prove they maintained and lived there. As of 1986, homesteading is no longer possible in Alaska,.

Over time, the Kilcher property grew to 600 acres of land. Yule witnessed how other Kachemak Bay homesteads were being divided up between families and becoming smaller, which led to him creating the Kilcher Family Trust in the 1990s, thanks to which the Kilcher homestead’s 600 acres remain intact for future growth.

Thanks to their unconventional way of living, the Kilchers attracted plenty of media attention even before their lucrative TV deal with Discovery. A Swedish documentary released in 1984, “The Hard School of the Simple Life”, saw Alfi Sinniger play the role of Yule, while in 2012 Swiss Radio and Television compared the Kilchers’ lifestyle to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy.

According to National Park Service, there are homestead lands in 30 states. The peak year for homestead claims was 1913 with 11 million acres, and an impressive 45% of Nebraska’s acres have been distributed under the Homestead Act. There are thought to be over 93 million descendants of homesteaders alive today.

Where Are They Now?

Yule isn’t the only famous Kilcher: his son Atz, a singer-songwriter known for his yodeling skills, is the father of the Grammy-nominated musician Jewel, who has been active in the industry since 1994, and has sold over 30 million records worldwide.

Jewel was born in Payson, Utah, on 23rd May 1974, while her father studied at Brigham Young University. Brought up in the Mormon faith, she and her older brother Shane attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until her parents divorced in 1981, following which Jewel lived with her father on the Kilcher homestead. She’s said of her childhood: “We lived far from town. No running water, no heat… We mainly lived off of what we could kill or can. I loved it there”.

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The first song Jewel learned to sing was “Saint Louis Blues”, and during her formative years, she occasionally performed with her father in taverns and roadhouses to supplement their living expenses. They also sang at the Hotel Captain Cook and the Hilton Anchorage, which is when the musician learned how to yodel.

At fifteen years old, Jewel was working at a local dance studio when the instructor referred her to Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Academy. The future celebrity applied, and was awarded a partial scholarship to study operatic voice, plus businesses in Homer raised $11,000 to pay for the rest of her first year’s tuition. In Michigan, Jewel learned how to play the guitar and received classical training, which also helped her perfect her songwriting skills.

While studying, Jewel gave live performances in coffeehouses. Relocating to California after graduation, she worked as a ‘phone operator and coffee shop waitress, until being discovered in the summer of 1993, and inking a deal with Atlantic Records.

To date, the musician has won five San Diego Music Awards, released a dozen studio albums, and formed a non-profit organization named Higher Ground for Humanity, which focuses on education and sustainable improvements.

In 2003, Jewel became estranged from her mother, later accusing her of stealing millions of dollars in the year she worked as her business manager. “I found out that not only was all my money gone, but I was several million dollars in debt,” Jewel confessed in her 2015 memoirs. “The same year I came to believe that my mom, who was also my manager, was not the person I thought she was”.

As for other famous family members, Q’orianka Kilcher, Yule’s great-granddaughter and Jewel’s cousin, is an actress, singer, and activist, was born on 11th February 1990 in West Germany. At just two years old, Q’orianka and her mother Saskia relocated to Hawaii, where her brother Kainoa was born.

During her childhood, Q’orianka drew inspiration from Hawaiian culture and began hula dancing at five years old. She also trained in ballet, hip hop, Tahitian and West African dancing before winning Ballet Hawaii’s Young Choreographer Award in 1997. The future star was also selected to compete in San Diego’s Tahitian Dance Competition two years running.

After making history for being the first child to study classical voice at the University of Hawaii, Q’orianka studied drama at the Diamond Head Theater, and began performing as an opening act for Willie K and other Hawaiian musicians. The family relocated to California in 1999, where Q’orianka busked in Santa Monica for tourist donations.

Shortly after moving to California, Q’orianka’s lucky break came when she was cast in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 2000.

Three years later, she received a full scholarship to Hollywood’s Musician’s Institute, where she studied music theory, songwriting and vocal performance. Other skills include her black belt in Wushu kung fu and her stunt training at the National Wushu Training Center.

In 2005, Q’orianka played Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s “The New World”, winning a National Board of Review award for best breakthrough performance. The critically acclaimed movie shot her into the limelight and paved the way for a long and fruitful career. Other roles include her portrayal of Pinti in “Shouting Secrets”, her depiction of Tiger Lily in “Neverland”, and a role in Firelight alongside Cuba Gooding Jr.

As for Atz Lee, he made headlines in summer 2015, along with his wife Cristina Jane after being charged with using a helicopter to hunt black bear while filming an episode of “Alaska”. In Alaska, it’s illegal to use aircraft to hunt or spot prey, and the case was put on hold due to Atz Lee being injured in a hiking accident.

All parties pleaded not guilty, and eventually the charges against the Kilchers were dismissed, although the production company had to pay a $17,500 fine.

Net Worth

Although it can be challenging to calculate the Kilcher family’s exact fortune, the clan earns over six figures per season of “Alaska” thanks to its ratings and advertising figures. Despite not being the biggest reality stars, the Kilchers have a loyal following, and each member earns up to $10,000 per episode, which comes in at approximately $150,000 a year.

Reliable sources have confirmed that Otto and Atz Kilcher are worth $4 million and $6.5 million respectively; meanwhile, Jewel is worth $32 million thanks to her music career, and O’rianka’s net worth is believed to be close to $500,000. When taking Jewel’s net worth out of the equation, the Kilchers are worth $16 million thanks to the value of their family homestead.

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