With Alaska being a virtual hotbed of documentary crews and reality TV stars, it is unsurprising that Discovery Channel has its very own series to parallel History Channel’s “Alaska Bush People”. Like the History Channel show, “Alaska: The Last Frontier” documents the lives of Atz Kilcher and his extended family – a small community living off the grid and on the land. Atz Kilcher is a truly fascinating character with musical roots and a complex family history that brought him to the wilds of Alaska. Somehow, he manages to embody the survivalist, democrat’s child, musician, and father, with the greatest of ease. Although not all his children have chosen to follow the same path that he has, he continues to be the linch-pin of the Kilcher family.
I just chipped in to Alyse Galvin’s campaign for Congress because my father Yule Kilcher, who was a delegate to the…
Atz Kilcher was born on 2 September 1941, in Alaska, USA to Ruth and Yule Kilcher, who had moved to Alaska to flee Hitler’s reign, and set up a homestead in the cold and ice. Yule Kilcher was a Swiss delegate at the Alaska Constitutional Convention, and it was these political ties that allowed him to make the change seamlessly. He also served as a state senator for some time as well.
Atz was the eldest of eight children, and felt that he was responsible for their protection and wellbeing. He had six younger sisters – Wurtilla, Fay, Catkin, Stellaver Mossy, and Sunrise – and a brother. Otto. The youths would spend their day immersed in the life of the homestead, managing cattle, farming, and fishing.
The family had a strong musical culture, and would often play instruments and sing. Atz also developed a fascination for cowboys, and would often go riding with his guitar, frequenting bars and pubs where he would share his music. However, life was not all the gaiety and freedom that his parents had anticipated, and required hard work. Atz’s father was particularly hard on him as the eldest, and Atz places the blame for his own abusive behavior towards his own children squarely at the feet of Yule.
When the Kilchers first arrived in Alaska, they were truly in the middle of nowhere. There was no easy way to get to Homer, the nearest town, and so the children had to be home-schooled. Eventuall, a road was built through to their homestead, and they were able to attend public school.
However, the children were left with the lasting impression that creative education was by far the most important.
Perhaps the foremost of his careers, Atz started in music. His family has performed as a musical troupe throughout Alaska and Europe throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, and he saw no reason not to turn this into a career. He released his first album, “Spirit Filled with Air” in 1999, and has since released two other albums and a couple of acoustic collections. He has passed on his musical heritage to his children too; while his daughter, Jewel, is the best known for her voice and multiple Grammy nominations, his sons Nikos and Atz Lee have also released albums of their own.
Living off the land with no basic amenities such as plumbing, electricity or central heating, the Kilcher family was of particular interest to the producers at Discovery Channel. When the channel proposed to launch a series that documented the life of the Kilcher family, they were quick to accept and welcome the filming crew into their homestead. That being settled, the show premiered on 29 December 2011.
While the show is scripted and dramatized to a large extent, much of what is depicted on the show is based on true events. The show plays on the interesting family ties and dynamic, and explores the way in which the Kilchers have made the wild their home. Throughout the docuseries, Atz plays a prominent role as a father, grandfather, and role model, coaching and teaching his family through life and the challenges that the outdoor presents.
Atz is an author too, and in February of 2019, Blackstone Publishing released his memoir – “Son of a Midnight Land: A Memoir in Stories”, which tells the tale of Atz’s life, his struggles with a violent father, and the impact of the abuse on his entire family. It also explores his journey to forgiveness, and the changes he wrought in his own life to try and break the cycle.
In his less-than-private personal life, Atz met his future first wife, Leandra J Carrol while they were both teenagers living in Alaska. Leandra is a talented author, singer and businesswoman, and the romance between them blossomed and they eventually married. Although the three had children together, their relationship didn’t last, and they divorced in 1982.
After the two divorced, Atz maintained custody of the children, Lee, Jewel and Shane. Jewel relates, however, that in the wake of the divorce, Atz turned to alcohol to drown his sorrows. This brought out the worst in him, and he abused his children, specifically Jewel who writes about the abuse in her autobiography. Jewel left the homestead when she was 15, and was so determined to stay away from her family that she remained homeless for a year, living out of a car. The fact that the children had lost touch with their mother turned out to be for the best, for when Jewel reconnected with her mother, she was forced to cut ties with her again, after she discovered that Leandra was stealing from her.
Atz had a brief affair with a woman named Linda with whom he had a son, but the two decided not to take their relationship further, and separated.
Atz is now married to Bonnie Dupree. The two appear to have a peaceful relationship and spend all their time together. During the summer months, the Kilchers do not necessarily remain on their homestead, but Bonnie accompanies her husband on all his travels.
Atz’s youngest child, Nikos Kilcher, is a product of his love affair with the elusive Linda. It is unclear what the current relationship between the two is, or exactly what happened between them. Nikos lives with his father for the most part, but like many of the Kilcher clan, is also actively pursuing a career in music.
Atz Kilcher has an abundance of white hair that he hairs both long and in variations of a horseshoe mustache and a luscious beard. His age is visible on his face, but he retains a fitness and agility unusual for his age, likely due to the stamina living away from civilization has given him. Atz wears glasses and has an almost constant smile on his face, bristling with genuine joy and friendliness. Despite living wild, he maintains a neat and put-together appearance, although his body measurements are unknown.
If you thought that living in the wild and subsisting off the land was an indication of poverty, you are severely mistaken. Atz has various business ventures – the sale of his albums, merchandise, and the pay-out from “Alaska: The Final Frontier” – which all keep his head well above water. Atz has a truly impressive net worth estimated at $6.5 million as of mid-2020.