Alaskan Bush People star Billy Brown has died. “We are heartbroken to announce that our beloved patriarch Billy Brown passed away last night after suffering from a seizure,” son Bear Brown says of his father, whose clan first rose to fame when their hit reality series debuted on Discovery Channel in 2014. “He was our best friend - a wonderful and loving dad, granddad and husband and he will be dearly missed. He lived his life on his terms, off the grid and off the land and taught us to live like that as well. We plan to honor his legacy going forward, and to continue with his dream. We ask for privacy and prayers during this painful time. God Bless everyone!” Billy Brown was 68.
Billy Brown was raised in a small town in North Texas before moving to nearby Fort Worth. “We settled down and tried to do every- thing ‘right,’” Billy told People in 2015 of starting a small plumbing company and creating a life with new wife Ami in 1979. “But I came home one night and told Ami, ‘I don’t know if I can do a 9-to-5 the rest of my life.’” Ami concured and the two spent the next few years traveling the continental United States, until 1983 when they sold their few belongings and booked passage for them and their two boys, Matt, then 3, and Joshua (who goes by Bam), then 1. Their first Alaskan winter, cold weather left them stranded on an island approximately 50 miles from the city of Wrangell for 18 months. By the time a skipper came upon the family and offered them a ride to the nearest town, Billy and Ami had grown accustomed to their new life and chose to stay. Over the next 20 years, the couple welcomed five more kids—sons Bear, Gabe, and Noah, and daughters Bird, and Rain—while remaining in rural Alaska.
When producer first approached the family of nine about doing a reality show after reading one of Billy’s self-published autobiographies, it took some convincing to get the Brown children on board. But soon the entire clan was watched by more than 5 million viewers who became enthralled in the family’s life “off the grid.” Their life away from the marvels of modern living and medicine were hard on the Browns: Aside from injuries they all endured while living in the bush, Ami’s dental health was always a point of concern, and Billy began experiencing seizures and having heart and muscle issues.
In the spring of 2017, the family relocated to Southern California while Ami was treated for advance lung cancer. Defying the “3 percent chance of survival” she says she was given by doctors, Ami was in remission by late 2018 and the family began to establish their life on a new homestead in rural Washington state. It was there that Billy’s health issues became more frequent. “Alaska beat the crud out of me,” the patriarch said to People in 2019, detailing the injuries he’d sustained after years of pushing himself to the limit: a detached muscle in his arm, a torn meniscus, lungs that are “about gone” after years of pursuing diving without any scuba gear. “I’ve had such an active life and I’ve done so much with my own hands and been proud to do it. It’s really hard to back up now and sit on the sideline,” Billy added. “I’m not ready for a porch yet. Don’t go putting me on a porch yet,” he continued, before a pause. “I probably am, I just won’t admit it.” And though some of the Browns were already living off the family property, the next generation had already begun to do the heavy lifting to keep “Browntown” going. “It’s good to be strong enough to do what your parents did for you when you were young,” Bear said in that 2019 People story. “[You] look out for them like they looked out for you.”
Billy’s life in the spotlight was not without scrutiny—the family faced accusations of faking their lifestyle for TV; his strained relationship with a daughter from a previous relationship was always a point of drama for fans; and in 2015, he and Bam pled guilty to lying about their residency in order to receive the yearly oil revenue checks given to Alaska residents—but the 68-year-old ultimately leaves behind a growing legacy of wilderness lovers, as Bear and fiancée Raiven Adams welcomed the family’s newest addition, son River, last year. Billy also leaves behind a massive and rabid fanbase who grew to know the patriarch over the past 12 seasons of Alaskan Bush People. “We are devastated to hear of Billy Brown’s sudden passing,” reads a statement released to The A.V. Club from Discovery Channel. “He has been part of the Discovery family for years - a trailblazer, a lovely man and most definitely one of a kind. Our heart is with his family and those that knew him and loved him as they deal with this devastating loss.”