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The Untold Truth Of Danielle Colby

You know her as the woman behind Antique Archaeology's office, as the Queen of Rust, and above all, as a foundational part of the History Channel's smash hit American Pickers. Danielle Colby is all of these things, of course, but she is also a dancer, an artist, a mother, an activist, a filmmaker and an enthusiast. She is someone committed to women's history, to the art of the striptease, to a well-done tattoo, to entomology, and to all things vintage. 

She is someone who, at 43 years old, is only getting started living life to the fullest. From the charmingly everyday to the totally boundary-pushing (wait till you see what she has a tattoo of), we've rounded up some of the most surprising facets of Colby's enormously varied and incredibly rich life, and we're here to spill the beans. Turns out, American Pickers is only the beginning.

Fame split up her first marriage

Fame comes with many rewards — riches, notoriety, and increased opportunity are only a few — but it exacts a toll as well, and often an intimate one. Colby, who by 2004 was married with two children, found her domestic life in a shambles after American Pickers debuted and quickly became a massive success. "Fame and notoriety are not easy for [her first husband] to deal with at all, so the relationship ended up not working out," she remarked to WQAD in 2012, when discussing her first marriage and ultimate divorce. 

This wasn't a case of identity split by Hollywood's demands — Colby is clear that she is very much herself on camera, and in fact credits her success to this fact. "The reality is that I am who I am, and I was this person before American Pickers," she told WQAD. "That is why [the producers] have embraced me and why people identify with me." Though the rise of the show ultimately split up her first marriage, she clearly draws comfort from her strong self-confidence and many passionate interests. Sometimes, things simply aren't meant to be, and accepting that can be the beginning of a grand new series of opportunities.

Her children keep her grounded

While her first marriage did not last, Colby's home life has only flourished and become a tremendous comfort to her. Even when discussing her career in appraisal, burlesque, or filmmaking, she will often turn the discussion back to her children, as when an interview about tattoos swung towards an appreciation of her "favorites": the ones her children drew for her that consist of a circle on one hand drawn by her son and a heart on the other drawn by her daughter. 

Meanwhile, no matter where she is or what she's doing, her Instagram is continuously uploaded with snapshots of her happy home life, from kooky Halloween costumes to a simple look at dinner time. In the midst of a life that extends across medium, aesthetic, genre, nation, and indeed, time itself, it is clear that her children are a grounding influence she cherishes deeply. And luckily for her kids, between her knowledge of history and go-get-'em attitude, she's one heck of a role model to have in the house.

She was a roller derby player

You know her from reality television, and possibly her career on the stage, but did you know that Colby was once a roller derby player? And not just a player — she was the owner of the team. The Big Mouth Mickies were their name, and winning bouts was their game. They were "just a bunch of Irish girls that got together because we really wanted to do roller derby," Colby has said, and apparently they had quite a good time doing just that. For years, she was part of both the operation and the power behind it, seeing the flashy sport from two unique angles. 

Unfortunately, roller derby is a high-contact sport played at top speeds and, of course, on wheels. As Colby put it, she "tore [her] body up... the shelf life of a roller derby girl is like three to five years." Any casual observer of roller derby would concur — there's a reason their matches are called bouts and every derby player seems to have a folder on their phone dedicated to post-bout bruising pics. Happily, many of the Mickies went on to accompany Colby in her pursuit of burlesque, proving that the bonds of roller derby are durable indeed. What is built on the track is built to last.

She's been friends with Mike Wolfe for decades

As one of the co-hosts and principal "pickers" of the show, Mike Wolfe is among the most important and visible parts of American Pickers. But his relationship with Colby goes back far further than their time together on screen. As she told Yuppie Punk in 2010, Mike had been "picking" for 20 years prior to the show and she had zero hesitation in signing on when the History Channel decided to take a chance on him. Mike had "been a really dear friend of mine for almost ten years — and he has helped me on all of my projects for about ten years — so I knew without a doubt, if he was a part of [American Pickers], not only would it be successful, but it would be kick**s too." 

She was, of course, entirely right, and she, Mike, and co-host Frank Fritz all rocketed to fame on the strength of the show and its irresistible premise. There is one dark side to all this, however: people tend to assume she and Wolfe have a romantic history, when they do not. "I get a lot of emails from people asking if me and Mike are married," Colby confessed. "Well, Mike's taken. And not by me!"

She's a devout punk fan

It comes as no surprise that Colby — tattooed, notably rebellious, and very much committed to living life her own unique way — is a fan of alternative music. But the casual American Pickers fan might not realize just how devoted she is to all things punk, rock, and counterculture, and that she's got the merch and knowledge to prove it. Colby has been snapped wearing shirts promoting Against Me!, a now-legendary punk band headed by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace known most for their raucous live shows and take-no-guff lyrics set against howling guitars. 

Colby has also cited British Celtic punk band the Pogues as not just one of her favorite bands, but an enormously important part of her life, period. "I got to see the Pogues and that was hands down one of the most amazing experiences of my life," she told Yuppie Punk in 2010, naming them "one of the very first bands I ever fell in love with." She's also devoted to the Flaming Lips, Butthole Surfers, Guttermouth, the Dead Kennedys, and a number of punk's other most famous and revolutionary names. The Queen of Rust isn't just familiar with antiques and automobiles — she's a regular denizen of the mosh pit as well.

She's passionate about bugs

Here's one facet of Colby's multitudinous interests you'd likely never have guessed: she's fascinated by bugs. She has an enormous tattoo of a fly on her forearm, done by Chewie, a tattoo artist working out of Alex in Tattooland in Moline, Illinois. When interviewed in 2010, Colby gushed over her work — Chewie also did her knuckle tattoos, which read "HOLD FAST," and the plan was for her work to go much, much bigger. "She'll be finishing my left arm," Colby said, "which is all entomology. I love bugs." 

Years later, quite a lot of skin on her left arm remains uncovered and often obscured, but the beautifully inked fly remains. As she is most famous for her part in a show centered around finding worth and value in the unlikely refuse of a vast nation, it seems only appropriate that she finds beauty in bugs, and has one of the most underappreciated — the simple, swattable house fly — inked into her skin.

She's a burlesque performer

A quick glance at any part of Colby's online presence reveals her primary passion: burlesque. As Dannie Diesel, she performs with a shimmering wardrobe of gowns, gloves, and props. She's backed by her band, Gin Rummy, with whom she has traveled the country. Her love of burlesque extends into memorabilia as well — the Pickers star owns stage costumes worn by legends including Lillie Langtry, Josephine Baker, and even something from the infamous Mata Hari's vaults. 

While Colby's love of burlesque stems in part from an appreciate for glitz and glamour, it's an ideological pursuit as well. "A lot of people are very nipped and tucked in the striptease industry," she remarked, "so to go out there with a natural body and try to make people emote with you and laugh and enjoy a moment where everybody feels a little vulnerable, that's the appeal." She is who she is — someone, she notes pointedly, who is in her fourth decade of life and has had two children — and she's willing to bare it all in order to make a connection with the audience, celebrate the human body, and have some fun... and, occasionally, to collect the legendary outfits of wartime spies.

She's doing relief work in Puerto Rico

Colby is a dedicated person. From her family to her performances, from her athleticism to her work on American Pickers, she gives her all every time, no exceptions. Nowadays, she's taken that can-do spirit all the way to Puerto Rico and is currently giving her all for Hurricane Irma relief. Her Instagram is a flood of pictures from her time there, from gorgeous beach vistas to more sobering documents of her work building houses, fundraising, and discussing reconstruction strategy with local leaders. 

But it's not all relief work — Colby is also, as she describes it, "living a work study Latin history immersion in Puerto Rico to better understand the roots of Latin Burlesque." Given her commitment to women's history, performance, and her newly discovered passion for documentary filmmaking, what will come of this research is likely to be as exciting as it is enlightening.

She's a philanthropist

It's not all glitter, tattoos, and rusted antiques for Colby. She's also an ardent philanthropist who has donated her time, money, and publicity to more than a few charities, organizations, and causes. Currently, the one dearest to her heart is Batey Girls. Batey Girls is part of the Batey Rehab Project, and aims to provide economic opportunities for girls and women in the Dominican Republic at high risk of sex trafficking and domestic violence. 

While the Project works on multiple fronts, including housing and education, Batey Girls specifically makes helping easy for the curious onlooker. As Colby promotes, one can simply buy one of the beautiful and locally-mined pieces of jewelry the group's participants make and thus support a brighter and more sustainable future for a particularly at-risk population. Colby's website and social media accounts are all boldly emblazoned with the group's colorful logo and a link to their website — one that's certainly worth the click.

She's a documentarian

She's a performer, an appraiser, an athlete, an artist, a mother, a philanthropist, and an all-around eccentric. What more could Colby possibly pack into her life? Well, it turns out there's one more field she's intent on conquering: the world of documentary filmmaking and women's history. As a devout feminist and history-minded geek, this isn't surprising, but it sure has led to some fascinating work. 

Colby's biggest achievement so far is serving as executive producer on Tempest Storm: World's Oldest Exotic Dancer, a documentary examining the life of the titular entertainer. Storm has been linked to everyone from JFK to Elvis Presley, blew up her life when she committed to a then-controversial interracial marriage, and spends much of the film looking to reconcile with her estranged family. Colby positively gushes when it comes to describing her part in the production, both as a historian and as a fellow dancer. "Thank you for paving the way for the rest of us B Grrrls," she enthused on her Facebook page, "I can't wait to perform with you in Vegas soon!" 

One thing is clear: Colby isn't done pursuing women's history, archival collection, or performance anytime soon, and we in the audience are all the luckier for it.