Antique dealer Mike Wolfe has become one of the most recognized faces in the antiquarian industry in small-town America, due to the popularity of the TV series, “American Pickers,” aired on History Channel. The show premiered in January 2010, and has since entertained almost six million viewers each week, making it one of the most-watched reality-TV series on the cable network; the show celebrates its 23rd season this 2022. Many things changed in Mike’s life over the years; it hasn’t all been glitz and glamour, as he and his family tackled one problem after  another.

Know more about Mike Wolfe’s life before “American Pickers”

Most people thought that Mike had a great life growing-up, since he was quite knowledgeable in antiquities and collectibles. However, his real-life journey before his TV stint was far from ideal.

Poor background, bullied in school

Mike Wolfe was born on 11 June 1964, in Jolie, Illinois, but grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa.

He was raised by a single mom as his father left him and his two siblings when he was about two years old. They had a difficult time financially, depending only on his mom’s factory assembly line job salary. He was mercilessly picked-on when he was young, as he was thin and lanky; some kids can be cruel to other kids, especially if they were poor like Mike. He would remember having milk poured over him and being jumped on – to evade the bullies, he avoided using the major lanes going to school, and just passed through yards and alleys.

He finished high school third from the bottom of his class

Mike had a hard time focusing on his studies, and textbooks were like an alien language to him. With his traumatic experience in school, he was never inspired to study and be more diligent. His family wasn’t surprised anymore that he graduated third from the bottom of his class.

He tried to earn a college degree but bounced around a few community colleges in the Midwest before he eventually realized that it wouldn’t work. While he knew that it would be easier to be successful in life if he was armed with a college education, he had to change the trajectory of his journey to reach his dreams.

Picking and collecting garbage started it all

During his early 20’s, Mike worked in a warehouse building bikes. He was later promoted to the sales floor, but then there were months when no one wanted to buy bikes. It was then that he started ‘collecting garbage’, which later became known as ‘picking.’ He discovered that there was money to be made in buying and selling old memorabilia, vintage items, and antiquities; anything that may be useless to some turned out to be useful to others. He went knocking from one farm door to another, and scavenged through barnyards.

There was no internet back then, and so no social network apps to depend on; it was pure hard work going around the small towns. It was tiring but he never gave up in his pursuit of earning more. Nobody else seemed to be doing it in their community – even his friends thought that his life became weird with the stories that he shared with them. They told him that he should be on TV, as his experiences would definitely capture everyone’s interest.

The origins of “American Pickers”

The overall concept of the TV show “American Pickers,” was Mike’s brainchild. Buying and selling old stuff wasn’t new to Mike, as he was known to have been into the trade at the age of five. He sold an old bicycle he found in the weeds and repaired for $5, and over the years collected many items, so that when he had enough resources, he opened up an antique store.

Selfie videos of his antique picking

Before History Channel ever heard of him, he already had five years of taking selfie videos while going around the small towns in Iowa picking all kinds of antiques. When he had enough videos about his life as an antique picker, he went to Crazy Eyes Productions to help him edit them, then uploaded them onto his website.  A PBS channel in Iowa heard about him, and was interested in making something out of his videos. However, the producer didn’t share the same vision and so he had to reject the offer; the producer took his rejection as an insult to his 25 years of TV experience, and had to be physically forced out of Mike’s home.

Rejected by several TV networks but picked up by History Channel

Mike knew that he had something truly interesting on his hands, and pitched his idea to all major and cable TV networks along with the satellite stations, but it was one rejection after another.

He never compromised his vision just to get a nod from TV executives, and his hard work eventually paid off when he went to History Channel. At that time, the cable channel was looking for new shows to bridge the gap between the past and the present. It was in the fall of 2009 when one of the new producers, Mary Donahue, said that when she joined the network, their tag line was “History Made Every Day”, and Mike’s idea was perfect for their new programming concept. They saw the authenticity of Mike’s selfie videos, and thought that they were charming and more relatable, as compared to those shows that featured experts with their academic analysis of the collected “junk.”

History Channel didn’t want Danielle Colby

Initially, it was only Mike and his long-time friend Frank Fritz who were given the green light to be included in the TV show. However, Mike wanted someone who shared the same vision as him manning his antique headquarters who would also be featured in the show.

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His choice was his friend Danielle Colby, whom he met at a yard sale when competing to buy an item. Since Danielle didn’t have any contract yet with the cable channel, naturally the producers and the director didn’t want to film her. Mike insisted, and kept her in the show during the filming of the first episode. The director relented, and filmed her using an iPhone, then sent it to their network executives who found her appealing enough for television, and gave their approval.

A sister series to “Pawn Stars” and TV premiere

History Channel executives thought that Mike’s idea was perfectly suited alongside their popular reality-TV series called “Pawn Stars”, and as a way of introducing it to their loyal audience, they marketed it as the sister series of the said show. “American Pickers” made its television premiere on 18 January 2010, with the first episode raking in over three million viewers, the highest-rated debut show on History Channel at that time.

It continually gained more viewers, with the ratings in the following season proving that it wasn’t just a fluke. The 10th episode of the second season entitled “Laurel and Hardy,” aired on 6 September 2010, garnered more than five million viewers, making it the number one show in the non-fiction series category in 2010.

Controversial issues and rumors about Mike Wolfe’s career

However, Mike’s success was marred by controversy and rumors, not only about his career but also about his personal life. Here’s a list of Mike’s most-talked-about issues:

Mike and Frank shared more than a working relationship

Success can bring out all sorts of rumors, and one of them was that he and his “American Pickers” co-host were not only bound by friendship and work, but also by love. Some gossip-mongers wanted to gain more clicks on their sites or vlogs, so they concocted this ridiculous story that the two pickers belonged to the LGBTQ community.

While neither of them were homophobic, they were aghast by the rumor. Some people maliciously thought that the two were having an affair, since they rarely mentioned their families or anything about their personal lives in the show. It was a conscious effort not to include their families in the narrative, to maintain the privacy that they deserved. Danielle was asked about it, and said, ‘If Mike Wolfe was gay, he would shout it from the rooftops and probably be the most fabulous gay man who ever lived!’ She also said she couldn’t understand how anyone could have suspected Frank of being gay.

The falling out of Mike and Frank’s working relationship and friendship

Several speculative ideas were thrown into the discussion as to why Frank Fritz was fired from “American Pickers” in July 2020.

He wasn’t seen on the TV show because he was recovering from a back injury that needed surgery, but fans were shocked by the announcement that Frank wouldn’t be back on the show permanently. Most of them thought it was due to his deteriorating health, but Frank disabused them of this notion. It seemed that he and Mike hadn’t talked to each other for two years, not since his injury. He was quite bitter about History Channel’s decision, but told everyone that he was probably fired because Mike wanted his own brother Robbie as his new co-host.

After Frank’s revelation about the status of their relationship, the press had a field day, but Mike never posted anything negative or addressed the issue. He chose to be positive, and simply told everyone through his social media account, ‘I will miss Frank, just like all of you, and I pray for the very best and all good things for him on the next part of his journey.’ Danielle gave her two cents on what happened, saying ‘Frank caused so much pain for himself that it has been hard to watch. I truly hope Frank receives all the help he needs to become well after years of being unwell.’

Fans immediately connected her post to Frank’s alcohol addiction problems, but he claimed that he was already sober. Danielle also said that she hoped that it didn’t turn out that way, but people should be held accountable for their actions, and must endure the consequences.

It was only in August 2021 that Mike became candid about what went wrong between him and Frank, saying in an interview with The Sun, ‘Frank is just going through a lot personally with addictions. It’s unfortunate that he’s made decisions that have him the way he is.’ He also said that he wanted Frank to be back on the show, but the problem was that Frank couldn’t get it right. It could be related to the time Frank said that he should have been sober for a year, except for the temporary relapse that he had.

Mike was accused of faking it all the way

Due to the success of the show, and its ability to remain on top of the game for the past 12 years, allegations of the show being staged or scripted floated on the internet.

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Some of the netizens accused Mike of faking it all the way, from where to pick the antique, the haggling over price, and up to the value of the item that they picked. Mike reassured the sceptics that their show has been quite real from the start. He also said that they actually worked at their headquarters, which wasn’t built for the show. Danielle seconded her friend and boss, saying that they depended on it for their livelihood. The only difference these past few years was that it was easier for them to find areas to search, since fans had been calling them to show their wares. Most of their finds were prearranged by the producers, because they needed to call the owners before they started to film. The line between scripted and reality has always been blurry when it comes to television; it’s was the job of the producers and writers to make sure the viewers were entertained while they present the narrative in the most authentic way possible, and working to time constraints.

Mike and Danielle were an item

Over the years, Mike and Danielle’s friendship gained the hearts of many fans, and some wanted them to be together for real. Rumors abounded about their so-called love affair, but both of them shrugged it off saying that there’s nothing romantic between them, and that they were more like family. Mike’s wife has been supportive of Danielle’s other profession as a professional burlesque dancer; the couple would often watch her performances.

Mike’s personal life – child’s cleft palate, wife’s cancer, and divorce

His baby underwent multiple surgeries

Mike married his longtime girlfriend Jodi Faeth on 8 September 2012, in Franklin, Tennessee. When they had their baby girl they fondly called Charlie, Mike went through a hard time. His wife had a difficult pregnancy, then Charlie was born with a cleft lip and palate, and the baby underwent surgeries to correct the problem. Their marriage was tested during this ordeal but they passed it with flying colors, and the relationship became stronger.

Jodi’s battle with cancer

Little did they know that it was just the start of a more arduous journey in their married life, as in December 2013, it was revealed that his wife had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The good news was that it was curable, and the five-year survival rate for NHL Stage 2 was over 75% at that time. It was such a shock to them, especially since Jodi was taking good care of herself being a vegan, an exercise bunny, and an advocate of juicing. Many people were surprised that they shared it with the public, since Mike was known to be very private when it comes to his family. It seemed that the couple wanted to raise awareness of the illness that had befallen her.

Mike was there beside her the whole time whenever he was off from work. He even shared on his Instagram account the moment they got the good news on 28 May 2020, and uploading a photo of him with Jodi and their baby with the caption: ‘6 years cancer-free today!!’

News of divorce due to irreconcilable differences

No one was prepared when TMZ reported that on 8 July 2021, Jodi had filed for divorce. The fans immediately wondered what happened in one year from the happy post in May 2020 leading to the discovery of the divorce papers.

Both sides were quiet about it, and the reason given for the filing of divorce was irreconcilable differences. However, tongues started wagging when the documents were scrutinized, and that Mike and Jodi had officially separated in June 2020; Charlie stayed in mom’s care and the split was amicable. There was no more news about them as both parties kept mum about it. According to those who had seen the documents filed, it seemed that the couple exhausted every means to stay together, but it was no longer working for them. His wife filed for equitable division of their properties and other assets along with their debts.

Mike’s life wasn’t as tragic as those who underwent multiple unfortunate situations, but can certainly be compared to a rollercoaster ride. While his career continued soaring high with “American Pickers,” his married life didn’t survive. Recently, his personal life was reportedly becoming colorful again, as he was photographed with a new lady love named Leticia Cline. No confirmation from either party but based on the photos, Mike is seemingly quite happy.

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