Willie Robertson wasn’t prepared for fowl fever. After the 2012 premiere of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, his family-run duck-call business in West Monroe, Louisiana, exploded into the multimillion-dollar Duck Commander franchise. (In a year, sales leaped from 50,000 to more than a million.) “On the show, people saw me arguing with the guys to get to work,” the CEO recalls in the new issue of Us Weekly. “In real life, orders were late. I was getting emails like, ‘It’s not funny. I’m waiting!’”
Willie, 44, wife Korie, 43, and his family — brothers Jase, Jep and Alan and their respective wives, Missy, Jessica and Lisa; garrulous Uncle Si; parents Phil and Kay — promoted faith and facial hair over five years and 10 seasons, even delivering cable TV’s most watched reality-show episode in 2013. Now, as Duck season ends, the parents of Rebecca, 28, John Luke, 21, Sadie, 19, Willie Jr., 15, Bella, 14, and Rowdy, 14, take a look back with Us.
Us Weekly: At what point did you realize you had a phenomenon on your hands?
Willie Robertson: People started showing up to the warehouse. At first, it was two, and I was like, “Hey, come on in!” Then two turned into 20 turned into 40 turned into 2,000. They were making the pilgrimage down here to be part of it.
Korie Robertson: The craziest moment for me was when we were on Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People in 2013.
WR: We did Conan in April 2012. I was so nervous standing behind that curtain. It was like Gladiator. When it opened up, I had no idea what was going to be on the other side.
Us: What’s the best part of fame?
WR: Getting to meet people I look up to, whether they’re athletes, musicians, actors or politicians. You get to have a quality conversation and learn what’s cool about their life.
KR: For me it’s the opportunity to travel and meet people. We may be speaking at a fundraiser and learn, Wow, this really awesome thing is happening in the world. We’ve visited children’s hospitals to be with dying kids who had a wish to meet us.
Us: Favorite celebrity encounter?
KR: The first time we went to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner [in 2013], the Secret Service guys were like, “Mr. and Mrs. Robertson, the Obamas would like to meet you.” They pulled us behind a curtain into this room. Nicole Kidman was there!
WR: President [Barack] Obama said he watches the show on Air Force One. We got such a kick out of that!
Us: How “real” has the show been?
WR: The Robertson family has always been very open with their lives. Good and bad. When you’re vulnerable and say, “Hey, this is what we’re going through,” that resonates.
KR: Those episodes that are authentic and meaningful to us are the ones I think are the best, like when Phil and Kay renewed their vows [season 4] or we adopted Rowdy [season 10].
WR: We try to protect everybody and not get caught in something embarrassing, though. There was one time Si was picking his nose and producers thought it was funny. We were like, “No, take that out.”
Us: In 2013, Phil came under fire for seemingly homophobic remarks in GQ. How did the family cope?
KR: Whether or not we agreed with what he said was irrelevant. We wouldn’t choose a show over family.
WR: It was a weird time being in the spotlight like that. But it created a good discussion. Bridges were built.
Us: Duck’s success has spawned everything from T-shirts and books to a cruise and a diner. What’s the weirdest piece of merchandise?
KR: The Chia Willie!
WR: My face is on the back of a toddler’s underwear.
Us: What’s next? Willie, is it time for your political career?
WR: No, I’ve decided I don’t know if I can handle that. Duck Commander is still there. We are writing a book, I think. We’ll probably travel.
KR: I want to go back to Italy!
Us: Will any of the guys finally shave?
WR: I’d say no.
KR: Missy really wants Jase to, and he’s considering it.
WR: I bet Jep.
KR: Yeah, Jep is the most likely.
Duck Dynasty’s series finale airs on A&E March 29 at 9 p.m. ET.