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The Untold Truth Of Forged In Fire's Wil Willis

Among the multitude of reality series on the air, "Forged in Fire" stands out for its unique focus on ancient weaponsmithing with masters who still perform the antiquated but awesome craft. Another aspect that makes the show great is the solid work done by the core cast of judges and, most notably, former host Wil Willis. From the debut of the show in 2015, he hosted all seven seasons before his departure in 2019. Grady Powell has since taken over as the host of "Forged in Fire." 

Willis did not provide expertise on blades for the popular series, but he made up for his lack of knowledge in medieval weapons with an extensive background in modern warfare. With over a decade of experience in more than one branch of the military, he brought an interesting perspective that only improved the quality of show. Here are the fascinating details behind his journey from warrior to wise veteran and talented showman in a quite unique career.

His family moved around constantly when he was young

Even though Wil Willis considers himself a citizen of the U.S. above anything else, the future veteran and host of "Forged in Fire" was born outside the country off the coast of Portugal. His parents met while his father served overseas in the Air Force. On the B3F Podcast, Willis explained, "My mother is from Athens. My dad married a foreigner and brought her to the states." He then added, "My uncle lives in Greece. I am half Greek and I'm proud of that, but before any of that, I'm American."

When he was around 2 years old, Willis' family moved to the U.S., but did not stay in one location for long. First, they lived in Texas, and then they moved to Florida when he was 5. At 8 years old, his family moved again, this time to California, and remained there for the rest of his youth. He went on to graduate high school in the northern region of the state.

His father and neighbor were major inspirations to serve in the military

Before "Forged in Fire," Wil Willis was heavily connected to the military beginning when he was child. Willis came from a military family, which is a big reason why he later signed up. However, his father's service was not the only thing that influenced him to make the decision. While growing up on the Air Force base in California, he was surrounded by military personnel who also inspired him.

The father of his neighbor was a major influence on his life, particularly because he was a Green Beret, which Willis thought was incredibly cool at the time. As his dad and the old man would chat in front of their houses, young Willis overheard some of the stories and was highly intrigued by the action, especially since he had just seen the on-screen exploits of Rambo.

Yet when Willis told the neighbor about his desire to become a Green Beret as well, the veteran encouraged him to take a different path. He told the Cleared Hot Podcast that the neighbor said, "Don't be an idiot, go in the Air Force. They have Special Forces, it's called Pararescue. You'll get a medical background. You get to do all the same s*** the Special Forces does, but you'll get all the Air Force stuff." The conversation left a mark on him and certainly came to play later in his life.

Wil Willis was a Ranger first, then a Pararescueman

The onetime host of "Forged in Fire" would be the first to admit that he is not well versed in ancient or medieval combat, but he knows a thing or two about modern warfare. Wil Willis not only has a significant amount of training in Special Forces units, but he also is one of the few warriors who made the transition from being a Ranger to a Pararescueman (PJ). Yet when talking with the Cleared Hot Podcast, Willis admitted that he was definitely not the only one to do so since as an instructor, he encountered several individuals who made the same transfer.

After enlisting in the Army right out of high school, Willis quickly joined the Rangers and served in a battalion for four years. Then in 1998, Willis left to go back to his roots as a member of the PJs within the Air Force, following the advice of his neighbor several years earlier to become a Pararescueman. After serving for just about 15 years, he retired from the Special Forces unit in 2008 to move onto the next phase of his career in TV.

His long hair was never a weakness in fights

Fans of "Forged in Fire" might have noticed that Wil Willis likes to wear his hair somewhat longer, and the COVID-19 quarantine just made it easier for him to grow it out even more like the ancient Greek warriors of Sparta. Admittedly due to a little jealousy, Andy Stumpf brought up Willis' flowing locks while interviewing him on the Cleared Hot Podcast, but also mentioned that long hair could be a weakness in close combat, especially in jiu-jitsu.

However, Willis explained how it had never been an issue for him. In fact, there was one fight he got into with a Navy Seal where his long locks came in handy. While Willis' opponent was focused on pulling his hair, which Willis said did not faze him at all, the Seal was distracted and left himself open to a few damaging strikes.

Willis never saw major action

Wil Willis was the host of "Forged in Fire" for several seasons, but the many years on the show were nothing compared to his involvement with the military and combat training. Yet even though he served for almost 15 years, he made the somewhat shocking admission that he has never experienced any major combat in war. On the B3F Podcast, Willis joked that he is "the most highly trained, unopened G.I. Joe of all time."

That is not to say that he was never in any tense situations. The skilled operative utilized his medical and combat talents in places like Iceland and New Mexico, but that was nothing like being deployed. Willis' honesty continued as he added, "There's no way that I could ever relate to a person who has done that on that level." Especially after he did not get the opportunity to serve in either Afghanistan or Iraq, he decided it was time to leave the military and pursue other challenges.

Dungeons & Dragons gave him some knowledge on arms and armor

Wil Willis is best known for his time hosting "Forged in Fire," but he didn't start the job anywhere close to an expert of bladed weapons. Instead, Willis has admitted that much of what he initially understood about arms and armor came from his deep fascination was fantasy and sci-fi stories. He told Inverse, "I'm an uber-nerd, so I used to read a lot of 'Dungeons & Dragons' types of books. With that comes a lot of armor and sword making, so I knew some of the vernacular and a little bit about the process."

Willis grew up in a rather troubled home with four other siblings, so he would often resort to immersing himself in fantastical tales as a way to escape. In an interview with Eric Cervone, Willis joked about how he would get so deep into what he was reading as a kid that he could block out any of the chaos from his brothers and sisters.

His successful TV career began on the Military Channel

"Forged in Fire" was not the first series that Wil Willis was a major part of, but a well-earned role after a few years in the industry. Right before he left the PJs in the Air Force, Willis got an email requesting the services of a Pararescueman for a brand-new show, and his life was forever changed. The future host then got his start in TV as the lead of the reality show "Special Ops Mission" for the Military Channel in 2009. Though an extremely fortunate break for Willis, the transition to TV stardom was far from smooth as he endured a rocky year where he drove cabs and did whatever he could to survive between jobs.

Following his first show, Willis hosted "Triggers: Weapons that Changed the World" on the American Heroes channel from 2011-2013 (via IMDB). He performed so well on both series that he caught the attention of the network then-known as The History Channel and landed the hosting gig he is most well-known for.

He was a student of the New York Film Academy

After hosting "Triggers," but before landing the consistent gig of "Forged in Fire," Wil Willis was in an intermediary period of his TV career. His job outside of show business was sequestered in 2013, which left him open to the possibility of shifting his focus. Whereas before his job was to instruct tactical units for trauma care in the field, the host decided it was time to work on his own education instead.

With a desire to take a deeper dive into the storytelling aspect of both TV shows and film, Willis enrolled in the New York Film Academy and focused on screenwriting and playwriting (via LinkedIn). He described the thought process behind the decision on the B3F Podcast and said, "I love a good story, man. Like, if you can tell a story and spin a yarn that will engross and captivate a crowd of people, I love that." Since he had always enjoyed writing, it seemed natural to pursue that path and use the GI Bill to pay for it.

Wil Willis had a small role in Beer Fest

The host of "Forged in Fire" has had much more success in TV, but his career on screen began in film. In 2006, Wil Willis had a brief role in the cult comedy "Beer Fest" as one of the members of the English team that competes in the legendary contest.

When his tiny part in the film was brought up on the B3F Podcast, Willis broke out in laughter and said, "That's what launched me on this trail today." He then recalled how it began when he was still one of the Pararescuemen and a group of them decided to try out in a casting call for Adam Sandler's remake of "The Longest Yard." Unfortunately, he did not get the part, which was upsetting as both a Burt Reynolds and Sandler fan, but the attempt put him on the radar for the role in "Beer Fest."

He's been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder

From his impressive military career to his success with tactical training in the private sector and the later notoriety in the entertainment industry, Wil Willis has achieved a lot in life, but it did not come without major struggles. In 2016, the host was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which partially stemmed from his rough upbringing in an abusive household. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, the mental illness makes it very difficult for individuals to regulate their emotions.

On the Cleared Hot Podcast, Willis described what it was like for him to have the condition, saying, "It comes from abandonment issues. My mother left when I was very young; 4 years old, and the woman that stepped in was not a good person to us. And my father was not the kind of person that hugged you a lot."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Forged in Fire may have become less important in his life

Even though there has never been an official reason why Wil Willis left "Forged in Fire" after 2019, it is likely that he wanted to spend more time with his newborn child, Flash Orion Willis, who was born in March 2020. It is clear from the volume of photos on his Instagram that family became his only priority at that point, and he admitted as much when talking on the Cleared Hot Podcast, commenting on how the pandemic had somewhat been a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to spend more time with his son and wife.

Willis also took the opportunity to focus more on his production company, Monkey Fist Films. The host acknowledged that the name could have a rather raunchy sound to some, but he explained to B3F Podcast that it comes from an important type of knot. Furthermore, the term "monkey fist" has a deeper personal meaning for him. "It's a pliable anchor, and in rock climbing you can use it to wedge into a crack. Well, for me, I feel like I kind of wedged myself into the industry in a really strange way, and I've got to be kind of flexible enough to stay in that crack and still get somewhere. It's just kind of an anchor point, this Monkey Fist Films." The tiny operation includes only his wife and a third producing partner, but it gives him the freedom to lead his own passion projects.

Wil Willis works on classic cars as a hobby

"Forged in Fire” introduced Wil Willis to a global audience much larger than at any point previously in his career. Like all celebrities, details about his personal life have been revealed over the years, and now we know a little more about how he enjoys his free time. One can tell through his social media presence alone that working on older vehicles – such as his 1967 Ford Mustang GT, and a Chevy Impala more recently — is one of his major passions.

When talking with the B3F Podcast, Willis went into detail about his 1963 Chevy II Nova SS, such as the major modifications to the engine, and how proud he was to show it off to the world after finishing his work on it. He described the classic car with clear affection saying, "It's a beast; it's a gnarly little car, man, I love it."

He is nervous about his son enlisting with the Marines

Since Wil Willis served in the military for so many years before his stint on "Forged in Fire," as his father did before him, he was not surprised when his son expressed a desire to follow in their footsteps. But like any dad, Willis was concerned for his son and made sure he had all the knowledge he needed about the various branches before making his decision on who to enlist with.

Unfortunately, the youngster did not make the choice the elder Willis had hoped for, as he told the Cleared Hot Podcast. "I felt that pang of like, 'I told you not to join the Marine Corps,' you know what I mean? Not because the Marine Corps is bad or anything like that, just because I've been exposed to all of the services, even the Coast Guard. I've been exposed to all of it."