The tragic real-life story of Dog the Bounty Hunter

Duane Lee "Dog" Chapman and his wife, Beth Chapman, skyrocketed to fame in 2004 when their exploits of tracking fugitives and bail-jumpers were chronicled on the A&E reality series, Dog the Bounty Hunter. With his long blond hair, signature wraparound shades, and iconoclastic look, Duane Chapman proved to be a standout in the world of television, and the show became such a huge hit that it furthered the network's mission to shift brands from its "Arts & Entertainment" origins to more populist programming, per Variety. When Dog the Bounty Hunter was finally cancelled after 240 episodes, the Chapman family issued a statement (via Channel Guide Magazine): "This has been a great ride for eight seasons and we would not be where we are today but for our loyal and dedicated fans ... You can't keep a good Dog down."

Duane Chapman has proven that final point throughout a life tinged with tragedy by continually overcoming difficult situations that would bring else anyone to their knees. Let's dig into the tragic, real-life story of the man best known as Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Dog the Bounty Hunter's troubled childhood

Having grown up with an admittedly difficult childhood, Duane "Dog" Chapman held nothing back when he described his painful early years in his 2007 autobiography, You Can Run But You Can't Hide. While his home life may have seemed typical from the outside — growing up in a middle class home in Denver, Co. with mom and dad, Barbara and Wesley, and three siblings — the bond bondsman revealed that this wasn't the reality.

"As a young boy, I never knew that other kids didn't get hit by their dads," Chapman wrote (per an excerpt published by CTV News). From the then-youngster's perspective, experiencing domestic abuse was a normal "rite of passage" that all sons had to endure. "I simply didn't know anything different," he continued, admitting he couldn't remember "any long stretch" during his childhood when he wasn't being beaten. The Dog the Bounty Hunter star went on to write, "Just thinking of the abuse I endured can make me cry ... I was expected to take it like a man. But I wasn't a man. I was a young boy looking for love and approval from my father. I was desperate for his affection, so I ignored the pain." 

Noting that he vowed to break this cycle of abuse, Chapman added, "Until very recently, I never understood that none of his abuse was my fault ... and yet I swore that I would never beat my kids."

Duane 'Dog' Chapman went to prison on a murder conviction

It's safe to say that Duane "Dog" Chapman's adult life did not get off to the most auspicious start. As reported by the Toronto Star, a 23-year-old Chapman found himself in a world of trouble back in 1976. While living in Texas, the future Dog the Bounty Hunter star wound up waiting in a car with some others while his friend bought marijuana off a dealer. Unfortunately, the drug deal went south, and an argument between the two ended with Chapman's friend shooting the dealer dead. 

"In Texas in the '70s, if you were present, you were just as guilty," Chapman told the media outlet in 2012. Everyone involved was charged with murder — and found guilty. "I shouldn't have went," the reality star, who was released on parole after serving 18 months of a five-year prison sentence, added. "And I shouldn't have been the person I was back then."

Despite learning his lesson the hard way, that conviction continued to impact Chapman's life decades later, when he was cast on the U.K.'s version of Celebrity Big Brother and had his visa request denied, barring him from traveling abroad to Britain. A criminal record, Chapman told the Toronto Star, is "something that follows you the rest of your life, no matter who you become or who you are. I'm not proud of it."

A tragic death revealed the son Dog the Bounty Hunter never knew

The personal life of Duane "Dog" Chapman has been a complicated one. According to Entertainment Tonight, the Dog the Bounty Hunter alum has 12 children and has been married five times. One of those 12 kiddos is son Christopher Hecht, but as Chapman later told the National Enquirer, "Christopher's mom [ex-girlfriend Debbie White] committed suicide in the '70s while I was in a Texas prison doing 18 months. I didn't know I had a son until I got out."

While the two formed a relationship after Hecht reached adulthood, Chapman's son has had a difficult life, struggling with alcohol abuse, legal trouble, and multiple arrests from charges ranging from gay bashing and ethnic intimidation to suspicion of third degree assault. According to his adoptive mother, Hecht went missing in 2007, after serving a 90-day stint in behind bars for "traffic violations." She told the National Enquirer that she and her family were "worried sick" over his disappearance. 

While Hecht eventually reappeared, he continued to find himself in trouble. In 2014, Chapman revealed to the tabloid that he and his family had organized an intervention and Hecht agreed to go to rehab. "I feel relief that he's in rehab now," Chapman said. "Thank God someone is there to help him. I'm praying for him every day."

Dog the Bounty Hunter tragically lost two children

While the Dog the Bounty Hunter star was serving his prison sentence in the late '70s, he and his first wife split up. Shortly after his release, Duane Chapman married wife No. 2, Anne M. Tengell, with whom he shares three children, per Entertainment Tonight. One of them, a baby boy named Zebediah, was born prematurely on Jan. 1, 1980, and sadly died just 30 days later. Understandably, Chapman and Tengell's marriage did not survive this tragic loss, and the couple divorced. 

However, Duane Chapman would go on to get married and divorced two more times, before meeting the woman who would become the love of his life, Beth Chapman. The two tied the knot in Hawaii in May 2006; however, their big day was marred by another tragic loss. On the evening before the nuptials, reported Hawaii News Now, Duane received some devastating news: his 23-year-old daughter, Barbara Katie Chapman, had been killed in a car accident near her home in Fairbanks, AK. 

As Chapman's publicist told the news outlet, the Dog the Bounty Hunter star met with a minister to discuss the best course of action. It was mutually agreed upon that the wedding would go ahead as scheduled, with no mention of his daughter's death until after the ceremony. The plan, Chapman's publicist explained, was to reveal the sad news during the reception, which would double as a celebration of Barbara's life.

The 'torture' of hearing about his grandson's abuse

In 2011, Duane "Dog" Chapman was awarded temporary custody of his then-nine-year-old grandson, Travis Mimms Jr. According to Radar Online, a judge made the decision after hearing a shocking and deeply disturbing audio recording of the boy's father — husband of Chapman's late daughter, Barbara Katie Chapman — allegedly beating the couple's son.

As the Dog the Bounty Hunter star explained to the media outlet, his goal in gaining custody was not to take the young boy away from his father, but to simply remove the minor from a dangerous situation. "I want him [Travis Senior] to take parenting classes," Chapman said, before admitting that listening to the tape in question "was torture," and emphasizing that he needed to do what was in the best interests of the child. "I was beaten by my father, too," he added. "But we have to break that cycle."

Later telling the tabloid that he was "shocked and heartbroken" over the child abuse, Chapman revealed that his actions resonated with his late daughter's last words to him. "I love my grandson and only want what's best for him," he said. "During the last phone call I had with my daughter, Barbara Katie, she said to me, 'Please, daddy, take care of Travis Jr. Don't ever let anything happen to him.'"

Dog the Bounty Hunter and his family received death threats

Over the course of four days in the spring of 2012, Duane Lee Chapman and his family received menacing emails that contained graphic threats of violence. According to Radar Online, the FBI began investigating the messages that May, which threatened an array of heinous behavior, including "murder, rape, kidnapping and other horrific, unspeakable acts."

The Chapmans later issued a statement to reveal the story was indeed true and that the reported death threats were real. "The Chapmans are taking these threats seriously and are very concerned about the safety of their family," the statement read (via E! News). The Dog the Bounty Hunter's namesake star went on to promise that when the perpetrator of the emails was eventually tracked down, "He will prosecute to the full extent of the law for the threats made against his family."

Speaking to the Today show in a joint appearance with his wife, Beth, around that time, Duane Chapman revealed that they'd gotten "a few threats" over the course of nine years on TV. Calling the culprit a "coward" behind the internet, he added, "Of course, everyone's not gonna love you, but this has gone too far ... You know, I don't care, go ahead and threaten me and whatever, you know — let's meet at noon. But I don't like when someone threatens my little girls and Beth."

Duane 'Dog' Chapman's daughter accused him of being a drug addict

Dog the Bounty Hunter's Duane Lee Chapman has unfortunately had some rather fraught relationships with some of his children. That has definitely been the case with daughter Lyssa Chapman, who's made headlines over the years for supposedly feuding with late stepmom Beth Chapman amid her cancer treatments in 2017, and for slamming her father's alleged girlfriend, Moon Angell, in early 2020. She also made some shocking allegations about her famous dad back in 2013.

According to an excerpt of her autobiography, Walking on Eggshells: Discovering Strength and Courage Amid Chaos (published by Meaww), Lyssa — who's the daughter of Chapman and his third wife, Lyssa Rae Brittain — claimed that she saw "drug paraphernalia" in the family home when she was just five. Alleging that Duane began using "hard drugs" when she was in the second grade, Lyssa wrote, "At about this same time Dad became more and more distracted, and business dropped off significantly." She further claimed that Duane had become "irresponsible" and "began smoking a crack pipe like it was a cigarette." 

However, Chapman reportedly denied claims of drug use, later saying "he had no idea what crack was," Lyssa continued, adding, "That maybe explains why when Dad first started smoking crack (from my perspective) he never tried to hide it."

His daughter admitted she falsely accused him of a heinous crime

Drug abuse wasn't the only accusation that Lyssa Chapman made against her father. During a 2013 interview with Fox News, she revealed that she once accused Dog the Bounty Hunter star Duane Lee Chapman of raping her when she was 11 years old. However, in that same interview, Lyssa acknowledged that it never happened.

"I had been molested by a friend of his," Lyssa said, before explaining her motivation for making the false allegation in the first place. "It was a horrible life that I never wanted to go back to, living with him and Beth and the fighting and the drugs." While her mother, Lyssa Rae Brittain, reportedly drank a lot, Chapman's daughter found living with her to be "much more peaceful" than living with her father and his fifth wife, Beth Chapman. When Lyssa lived with her mother, she continued, "I was in school, I had friends, I was willing to do anything to not go back."

Thankfully, Lyssa and her father, Duane, were able to eventually move past the false accusation. "I have a great relationship with my Dad, as healthy as we can be," she said. "I love him with all of my heart. I have my challenges with his wife but I love my family."

Dog the Bounty Hunter's beloved wife, Beth, lost her battle with cancer

In 2017, Beth and Duane "Dog" Chapman received devastating news: she had a stage two cancerous tumor growing on her throat. As The Blast reported, Beth underwent a 12-hour surgery that September to remove the tumor, described as being the size of a plum. The surgery was seemingly successful. An A&E special, Dog & Beth: The Fight of Their Lives, aired that November and featured the Dog the Bounty Hunter couple celebrating when Beth was deemed cancer-free. "This could be a miracle," Chapman said at the time (via E! News).

Sadly, their happiness was short-lived. In November 2018, the Chapmans' attorney, Andrew Brettler, told Fox News that Beth had experienced difficulty breathing and was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital, where a mass was found in her throat. During an emergency surgery, doctors discovered the cancer had returned. "It's serious and her doctors are evaluating her treatment options," Brettler said.

As Beth continued to try alternative treatments, her husband kept fans updated on her condition. But sadly, on June 26, 2019, Duane Chapman took to Twitter to share some heart-wrenching news: Beth had passed away following her second cancer battle. She was 51. "It's 5:32 in Hawaii, this is the time she would wake up to go hike Koko Head mountain," he wrote. "Only today, she hiked the stairway to heaven. We all love you, Beth. See you on the other side."

He was hit with a medical emergency while mourning Beth

Duane Lee Chapman was understandably devastated by his wife, Beth Chapman's, untimely death in June 2019. His mourning, however, was cut short by a medical emergency of his own that September. Just three months after Beth passed away, the Dog the Bounty Hunter alum was hospitalized after complaining of chest pains at his home in Colorado, with TMZ initially reporting he had suffered a heart attack. That report turned out to be inaccurate, but not too far off: Duane himself later announced he had been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, a potentially lethal artery blockage.

Speaking with The New York Times in January 2020, Chapman revealed that doctors had recommended he stay in the hospital to receive treatment, but he refused. Instead, he said he pushed "an orderly up against a wall because he wouldn't let me leave" and checked himself out, adding, "They couldn't stop me." 

During an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show, which was teased shortly after the reality star's hospitalization, Dr. Mehmet Oz didn't pull any punches about the seriousness of Chapman's condition. "You're a ticking time bomb. You aren't going to be here with the heart the way it is right now," Dr. Oz told Chapman, chastising him for ignoring care that could save his life, and encouraging him to put his mental and physical health first.

His wife's medical treatment left Duane 'Dog' Chapman 'broke'

The loss of his beloved wife and the new knowledge that he had a serious health condition to confront would be enough of a hit for anyone to handle. But unfortunately, Duane Lee Chapman experienced even more misfortune in late 2019: he was completely out of money.

In his January 2020 interview with The New York Times, the Dog the Bounty Hunter star discussed his latest bounty-hunting job, a $1.5-million bond on a fugitive drug dealer who'd bolted from Hawaii to California — "[The] biggest bond I've ever written," Chapman said, noting that he would be responsible for paying if he didn't catch the person. If the famous bounty hunter, who was also reportedly in charge of handling his late wife's estate, came up short and didn't manage to bring in the fugitive, he also faced losing his Colorado home to the bank. Admitting that he was taking a huge risk, Chapman explained that, with no confirmed TV contract in hand at the time, he desperately needed an infusion of cash. 

"I'm broke," he confessed. Chapman, whose net worth was previously said to be $6 million, indicated that his late wife's medical bills had wiped him out financially.

Dog the Bounty Hunter's depression became so severe he contemplated suicide

The death of wife Beth Chapman left Duane Lee Chapman feeling lost and rudderless. The final episode of his series, Dog's Most Wanted, featured an interview with Chapman filmed shortly after the tragic loss. In the footage, Chapman is at a particularly low point, revealing how he'd considered taking his own life.

Admitting that Beth's passing "paved a way for [him]," Chapman shared his urge take a "pain pill" (via the Daily Mail). However, he worried about Beth's reaction should he accelerate his journey to the afterlife: "I feel like if I did something to myself right now and passed away, suicidal, and I got to heaven and was like, 'Hi honey,' and would she go, 'You dumb**s, why would you do that?' Or would she go, 'Wow, you're here.' I'll be like, 'Of course I'm here. You left me. I'm here.' So, am I obligated to do that?"

Speaking with The New York Times, Chapman's manager, Amy Weiss, revealed that he's "very lonely." She added, "He's lost, but he knows he must go on and provide for his family." Indeed, Chapman, who's unfortunately also been forced to dispute death hoaxes during this time, opened up about his suicidal thoughts on The Dr. Oz Show, crediting family friend Moon Angell for helping him, as the host put it, "choose life over death."

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.