HONOLULU – It's the Year of the Dog — for three years running. Duane "Dog" Chapman and his tattooed crew return Tuesday for the third-season premiere of the hit reality show, "Dog the Bounty Hunter" (A&E, 9 p.m. EST).
Season three will feature everything from celebrity ride-alongs to Chapman finally getting married to his longtime sidekick and business partner, Beth Smith.
"I'm marrying my common-law wife, Beth, the Christian way, with a preacher and all that," Chapman said.
Chapman and Smith have two children together and have been together for 16 years. Chapman said he proposed last year in Vegas after a few drinks. And he doesn't drink.
"He was a hard catch," said Smith. "That's why I say he's my biggest and best catch."
In jeans, silver-tipped cowboy boots and a leather jacket on a steamy 75-degree night in Waikiki, Chapman reflected on the surprising success of the show and his journey to becoming the self-proclaimed world's best bounty hunter.
The Marlboro-puffing Chapman has become Hawaii's most famous fugitive finder on TV since Magnum and Steve McGarrett.
Tour buses now stop at his bail-bond shop in Honolulu.
The series is A&E's highest-rated ever.
But fame does have its drawbacks. Chapman can no longer lounge at the beach, or go shopping without being asked for photos and autographs. The 53-year-old Chapman, however, said attention is nothing new for him.
"Not to sound like I'm bragging, but I was like a legend in my own mind anyway," he said.
It just takes a few seconds with Chapman to figure out his best weapon is neither his biceps nor the pepper spray canisters the size of fire extinguishers he totes around. It's his surprising sincerity, uncanny intuition and his mouth.
Chapman speaks with the compassion of a preacher, the bravado of a pro wrestler and persuasiveness of a snake-oil salesman.
"I think a lot of people judge him on how he dresses, by the way he looks," said Smith, a big-haired platinum blond, wearing a low-cut black tank top. "People who had a poor opinion of him before they meet him completely have a 100-percent turnaround when he shows his heart and how loving he is."
Chapman, whose tan, weathered face looks like it's seen its share of bar fights, agreed.
"I've always had that look. I'm the guy, your first impression is, 'Uh oh, call the police,'" he said.
Chapman grew up in Denver, the oldest of four sons. His father, a Navy welder, was physically abusive, he said. His mother was a minister.
"My father is the reason I am the way I am today," Chapman said. "He's why I acted up and he's why I prayed to be the opposite of him. We made up before he died but I vowed to never raise my kids like how he raised me."
By 15, Chapman had joined a biker gang and was entering a world of crime. After a string of robbery arrests, Chapman was convicted of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to five years in prison.
Chapman said he had no part in the killing, saying he was outside when a fellow gang member went into a house to buy marijuana.
"He got into it with a guy. Boom! We heard a shot. When he came out, his hand was bloody and I thought he had been shot," Chapman said.
It turned out, the dealer was shot.
In prison, he promised to turn his life around, and honed his understanding of the criminal mind.
"I was in there with killers, the worst in the world, brother. This was 70s, Texas," Chapman said.
Dog got his nickname from the gang.
"I was very loyal. I'm man's best friend. I always showed up for the fight. I took care of my brothers," he said. "I'm Native American so it's in my blood to always want brothers and friends. I'm a good brotherhood guy."
And, added the devout Christian and father of a dozen children, "Dog is God spelled backward."
Chapman claims more than 6,000 captures without firing a single bullet. But the one that made him the baddest bounty hunter in the galaxy (next to Boba Fett) was the 2003 apprehension in Mexico of serial rapist and Max Factor heir Andrew Luster.
"The title was on the line. Every bounty hunter was saying, 'We're going to catch him. We're the best,'" Chapman said.
But it wasn't just bragging rights that prompted Chapman to pursue Luster. He felt "obligated," he said, after meeting two of the women that Luster drugged and raped.
"They said, 'You're our only hope, Dog. Please,'" Chapman said.
Chapman never received any bounty for the capture of Luster, who is three years into a 124-year sentence.
"We weren't by that judge, but were we paid? Oh, yeah. Over and over again, brother," he said.
Chapman's contract for the third season was worth a reported $2.6 million.
Smith said that with the busy filming schedule they haven't had the time to enjoy money.
"We don't even realize it's there. We just know every month on the first, we don't have to go, 'Oh my God, how are we going to make the rent?'" Smith said.
Chapman, who, despite his larger than life persona stands only 5-foot-7 — or 5-10 in cowboy boots and with his hair sprayed up — called bounty hunting his "destiny."
What would he be doing if he wasn't a bounty hunter?
"Robbing banks," he whispered.