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Beth Chapman, reality TV star and Hawaii bounty hunter, dies after long battle with cancer

  • Video by Allison Schaefers / aschaefers@staradvertiser.com

    Fans paid tribute to Beth Chapman at her Portlock home following the news of her death Wednesday morning. Duane "Dog" Chapman recalled fond memories of his wife and urged fans to send flowers instead of monetary donations.

  • DENNIS ODA / JAN. 25, 2019

    Da Kine Bail Bonds co-owner Beth Chapman poses for a photo in the Honolulu office of the business before it closed in January.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2007

    Beth Chapman, left, and her husband, Duane “Dog” Chapman in Honolulu in 2007.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2014

    Beth Chapman, left, celebrates the 61st birthday of her husband, Duane “Dog” Chapman, in the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 2014.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Beth Chapman and Duane Chapman arrive at the CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena, in Nashville, Tenn., in June 2014.

Brash, outspoken and born for the fray, Beth Chapman rode the golden mullet of her bounty-hunting spouse to reality TV fame but spent the last days of her life inspiring others with her own starkly told struggle with cancer.

Chapman, 51, died this morning, according to a tweet by her husband, Duane “Dog” Chapman.

“It’s 5:32 in Hawaii, this is the time she would wake up to go hike Koko Head mountain. Only today, she hiked the stairway to heaven. We all love you, Beth. See you on the other side,” he tweeted.

Born Alice Elizabeth Smith in Denver, Colorado, Chapman was exposed to the limelight early as the daughter of professional baseball player Garry Smith of the former Kansas City Athletics.

Like her future husband, Chapman lived a tumultuous existence long before her life became fodder for reality TV. She had her first child, Dominic, at the age of 17. Her second, Cecily, came during her marriage to Keith Barmore.

She first met the Duane “Dog” Chapman when the bounty hunter came to bail her out following a shoplifting incident in 1986. She would go on to become a licensed bondsman herself (the youngest in state history at the time) as she and Duane, who was 16 years her senior, circled each other socially and professionally for the better part of a decade before finally becoming a couple.

Duane Chapman was already a prominent figure in bounty hunting circles when he made international news by capturing Max Factor heir and accused rapist Andrew Luster in Mexico, a feat for which the Mexican government would later seek to extradite Chapman and his crew.

That same year, he landed a segment on the A&E program “Take this Job,” which eventually led to the development of the series “Dog the Bounty Hunter” for the same network.

Readily recognizable with her arcing blonde locks, prodigious bosom and tight black wardrobe, Beth Chapman was an ideal foil for the Dog, whose Road Warrior-like appearance belies a most soft-spoken nature. Together they, along with a motley assortment of colleagues and relations, leveraged a narrative of waywardness and redemption, falls and rises, into a culturally defiant brand that earned the earnest reverence of those on the margins of polite society and the chuckling fascination of those who mock them.

The Hawaii-based series ran for eight years, attracting upward of 3 million viewers per episode at its peak.

By the time the show wrapped up in 2012, Beth Chapman had distinguished herself as a lead-worthy figure in her own right, one who endeared herself to fans with her unabashed, often combative personality and fierce loyalty to her husband and family. Her elevated status was reflected in the title of the couple’s next TV venture “Dog and Beth: On the Hunt,” which ran on CMT from 2013 to 2015. Chapman served as executive producer for the series. She was also listed as executive producer for “Dog’s Most Wanted,” which is still in development, according to IMDB.

The couple, who had two children together, were married in 2006. The event was marred by the death of 23-year-old Barbara Chapman, one of Duane Chapman’s 12 children from four previous marriages, the day prior in a traffic accident in Alaska.

Controversy and misfortune followed the couple on screen and off, from media-fueled squabbles with family members to run-ins with law enforcement (including a warrant for Beth’s arrest following an altercation with a teenager girl in Colorado) to a custody battle over Duane’s grandson arising out of abuse allegations against the boy’s father. Yet, their devotion to each other seemed never in question, particularly during Chapman’s battles with cancer.

Chapman was first diagnosed with stage II lung cancer in 2017.

“As most of you know, I’ve spent a lifetime facing tests and challenges I didn’t see coming and certainly never expected,” Chapman wrote to friends at the time. “I’ve been dealt my share of unexpected blows over the course of my almost 50 years but nothing as serious as the one I heard from my doctors two weeks ago when they uttered those dreaded three words, ‘You have cancer.’”

Fans around the world responded to the news via social media and other venues, some recalling their own battles with cancer, others invoking the memories of lost loved ones.

The ordeal was chronicled in a 2017 A&E special, “Dog & Beth: The Fight of Their Lives.”

Chapman was deemed cancer-free following surgery in November of that year. However, emergency throat surgery the following November revealed that the disease had returned.

“I’m a fighter,” Chapman told the Star-Advertiser in January. “I’m a strong fighter — big-time survivor — and I’m gonna fight this as vigorously as it’s fighting me,” she said at the time.

The couple, which had been splitting time between homes in Hawaii and Colorado, shut down its landmark Da Kine Bail Bonds office on Queen Emma Street in January due to the sale of the building, which was slated for demolition and redevelopment.

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