By STACEY PLAISANCE
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Phil Robertson, one of the shaggy-bearded stars of the hit reality TV series “Duck Dynasty,” used to get mistaken for a homeless man. He said he was even singled out once at an airport for a security search and wands went “places my woman hasn’t been in years.”
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These days, though, the patriarch of a family of duck hunters-turned-millionaires is more likely to get stopped by strangers who want autographs or pictures.
“When you look like this, there’s no hat and glasses that can cover it up,” Phil’s son Willie said, drawing laughs from his family of co-stars. “I’m certainly more recognizable. I can tell you that.”
Last Saturday, more than 500 fans showed up at an autograph session with the family. The Robertsons cracked jokes about their celebrity status and signed books, T-shirts, shoes and even some hunting rifles for fans in their home state of Louisiana.
The show, which airs on A&E, follows the family and its business, Duck Commander, which specializes in handmade duck calls and other bird hunting gear. But the Robertsons are easily distracted from their work and amuse the audience with their humorous adventures.
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The show premiered in 2012 and is in its third season, drawing about 8 million viewers a week. The Robertsons would not talk about the status of a fourth season or reports they were holding out for more money. But if their popularity is any indication, they’ll be back.
The Robertsons have fan merchandise such as bobble-head dolls, duck-themed license plates and Chia Pet planters in the shape of their faces with greenery that grows like their beards.
At the autograph session, Phil, with his sons Willie and Jase, and his brother Silas “Uncle Si” Robertson, gathered outside a sporting goods store in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie. Kids in the crowd blew into duck calls while a group of women chanted “Si, Si, Si, Si!”
“We’re getting more and more used to it as we go around, seeing people crowded up and wanting a picture or an autograph, and we think it’s neat,” Willie Robertson said. “We were hoping the show would have that kind of impact, and it has.”
Hundreds of fans arrived too late and were kept behind red velvet ropes several yards away from the stars. Some came from as far away as Cow Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada.
“Nova Scotians, they’re rednecks also,” said Dwayne Doucette, a Canadian who was with the group holding signs that read: “We love Duck Dynasty” and “Canada loves Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander.”
Jase Robertson, whose real name is Jason, said the duck calls are still handmade, one-by-one. To meet demand, the business has gone from a dozen employees before the show aired to about 75 in the past year. They make 14,000 duck calls a week, he said.
Fans buy the duck calls even though many have no intention of hunting, he said.
Casey Cambre and his 5-year-old daughter, Ava, waited more than eight hours to be the first in line to meet the family.
“I’ve never done anything like this, ever, not even for a concert,” said Cambre. “A lot of people like the show because it’s funny. I like it because it’s a good, clean, wholesome family show.”
Each of the show’s episodes ends with the family gathered around the dinner table in prayer.
“We’re trying to infuse a little good into the American culture,” Phil Robertson said. “Love God, love your neighbor, hunt ducks. Raise your kids, make them behave, love them. I don’t see the down side to that.”
Si Robertson, who is always with a tall cup of tea in hand, said he drinks about two gallons of unsweetened tea a day. As he sipped some during an interview, he said it was a misconception that he drinks sweet tea. That would rot his teeth, and besides, he said, he’s sweet enough as it is.
“I’m so sweet I can’t get out in the rain. I’ll melt,” he said.
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