The Nelson family is full of notable entertainers. While Tracy Nelson may not be the most well-known Nelson, her life story is still worth knowing.
Tracy’s career started when she was only 5, and her career grew from there, but tragedy came early for the rising star.
Her parents Ricky and Kristi Nelson have an unstable relationship, and they take from the world too early. Ricky died in a plane crash and Kristi suffered a sudden fatal heart attack.
Tracy miraculously survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma, thyroid, and breast cancer. She even has 2 healthy children and works to support cancer research.
Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the story of this underappreciated star. Watch our video to learn how the tragic story of Tracy Nelson just keeps getting worse and worse.
Early Life and Career
Tracy Nelson was born into a famous family on October 25, 1963. Her paternal grandparents were the famous Ozzie and Harriet, a duo of singers who had their own beloved show. Her maternal grandparents were football star Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox. She’s the daughter of Kristin Harmon and singer Ricky Nelson. Her brothers Matthew and Gunnar formed the band Nelson, and her youngest brother Sam became a musician and music executive.
Tracy continued this long-standing family tradition of performing as early as possible. She had her first film credit by the age of 5 as one of the daughters of the main characters in the 1968 film Yours, Mine, and Ours. And became a professional dancer, studying ballet for 17 years and touring a dance company at a young age. She also studied theater with Kim Stanley for a short time in the UK and performed at the Edinburgh Fring Festival after graduating high school.
Her breakout role came when she got the chance to play Jennifer DeNuccio in the series Square Pegs. It was popular for a short time but only lasted for one season ran from 1982-1983. After that, she made minor appearances in the 1984 series Glitter, the 1986 film Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and several other projects. Her career seemed poised to grow at a rapid rate, but unfortunate events threatened to stop it in its tracks at every turn.
Ricky Nelson and Kristi Harmon
Many of the first tragedies Tracy Nelson experienced were related to her parents. Their relationship was unstable, leading to custody battles and other unfortunate circumstances. Both of them are gone now, leaving her and her siblings with a hole in their hearts.
Ricky Nelson began his music career as part of his parents’ show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He released a few hit songs in the 60s in a range of genres, including pop, rock, and country, but his career stalled in the 70s.
Ricky Nelson and Kristi Harmon met when she was 12 on the set of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. They fall in love and married when she was 18 in April of 1963 in a Catholic ceremony with 400 guests. Having their first child Tracy only a few months later. They seem like a perfect match, but fighting and accusations of infidelity and substance abuse damage their relationship. They attempt to reconcile and work their issues out in therapy but they divorce in 1982.
Ricky decided to restart his music career after the split and purchased a private plane. He died suddenly when the aircraft crashed into a cow pasture outside De Kalb, Texas, on December 31, 1985. His girlfriend at the time, along with 6 of his fellow band members are also killed, and only the 2 pilots survived. Drug use was the first proposed cause, but the plane had a history of serious mechanical problems. They once allegedly had to push it off the runway due to engine failure, and a failed part also kept the band from participating in the first Farm Aid concert. A fire in the gasoline-powered cabin heater that spread throughout the plane was listed as the official cause of the crash.
The service holds on January 6, 1986, for Ricky. 250 mourners were present inside the Church of the Hills in LA, with 700 fans standing outside. He inters at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park- Hollywood Hills cemetery.
Ricky left his entire estate to his children with nothing for his ex-wife. Kristi attempted to sue the Nelson family to get his life insurance payments and take control of the estate away from David Nelson. This attempt was unsuccessful and a sign of further legal struggles to come.
Kristi’s alcohol usage increased after her ex-husband’s death, and her son Sam lived with her parents under the care of her sister Kelly for months. Her brother Mark Harmon convinced her to enter rehab after Ricky’s death. Despite this, Sam claimed that when he went back to live with her she was emotionally unavailable and would often scream at him. In 1987, Mark and his wife Pam Dawber petitioned for custody, alleging that Kirsti was too emotionally unstable and that her drug addiction made her unable to care for him. At first, he earns temporary custody, and Kristi orders him to stay 200 yards away from his house. The battle becomes increasingly messy but is eventually put to rest. Mark got visitation rights and began family therapy with Sam and Kristi.
Tracy hasn’t spoken in detail about how the custody battle and family discontent affected her, but she does feel that she’s closer to her uncle now than ever before. She even says that she wants him to teach her daughter how to swim just like he taught her. Mark also said in an interview with Parade that his current relationship with his niece and nephews is a gift.
Kristi Harmon died on April 27, 2018, at 72. Tracy wrote an emotional post on Facebook on May 1 to confirm that the cause was a sudden, unexpected heart attack.
Sam went on to graduate from Boston College and form a band called H Is Orange. He said in a 2016 interview with Medium, 2 years before his mother died, that their relationship had improved.
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Cancer and Tragedy
Tracy Nelson and William R Moses marry each other on July 25, 1987. She’s having Hodgkin’s disease a month later but overcame it. She returned to TV as Sister Stephanie Steve Oskoski in the 1989 show Father Downing Mysteries, and it became one of her most well-known roles.
The next tragedy in her life was heralded by a strange but prophetic sign. She had a dream in December of 1987 where her father called her. He said that it wasn’t time for her to die and that she had to see a doctor. When she did, they found a large tumor in her chest and confirmed that it was stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
To add to the impact of the news, William’s father was diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer at around the same time. Tracy underwent a 7-hour surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to get lymph node samples and remove her spleen and part of her liver. She also had to endure 5-hour chemotherapy treatments every other week for 2 months. The experience brought her weight down to 87 pounds and caused her to lose her hair. She said it was like being a “human biology project” and still has a 15-inch scar in the area. She credits a sudden increase in self-love for pushing her to fight to live.
It took 6 months for this first form of cancer to fully enter remission, but she continued to earn guest roles on shows such as Perry Mason and Melrose Place and appeared in over 20 TV movies throughout her career.
2 years after her first bout with cancer began, she and her husband’s thoughts turned to have children. They were worried that her treatments may have made her sterile, and her doctors were as well, but their fears turned out to be unfounded. They miraculously had a healthy daughter named Remington Elizabeth on August 11, 1992.
Tracy began to hemorrhage from her uterus after bringing her daughter home, and her mind turned to the worst-case scenario. Doctors, fortunately, stopped the bleeding in time before it became a life-threatening issue. She went back to work again after that, appearing in A League of Their Own in 1993 and earning recurring roles in shows such as Melrose Place, Snow River: The McGregor Saga, and The Eleventh. She even played Rizzo in the Broadway production of Grease in 1995. Despite this, she had certainly not experienced her final health struggle.
They discover that Tracy with thyroid cancer in 2005 due to trauma from previous radiation and breast cancer in 2010. She had to have a bilateral mastectomy and complete reconstruction but came through it. This marked 3 types of cancer that she’d overcome in addition to scares such as Hodgkin’s Disease and hemorrhaging.
Tracy Nelson Today
Tracy and Billy divorced in 1997 and share custody of their daughter. In 2001, she had another child, Elijah Nelson Clark, with her boyfriend Chris Clark. They also eventually broke up, but she’s thriving in her life and career today despite past tragedies.
Tracy has cultivated a net worth of at least $2 million. She believes that everything happens for a reason, and that’s she’s become a stronger person after experiencing so much tragedy in her life. She’s even written a book about her life and a script for a movie about her famous family called The Nelsons.
She is now an active cancer research advocate and the spokesperson for the Lymphoma Research Foundation of America. They gave her their Lifesaver Award, and the Amie Karen Cancer Fund for Children gave her their Jill Ireland Award.
Tracy may not agree with anyone who calls her a hero, but she is an inspirational figure. She’s shown that if you love yourself and keep fighting to live and do what you love, you can achieve anything.
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