The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet may not be a show that modern audiences remember, but it was a massive hit in its time. The Nelson family was an inescapable presence on TV sets in the 1950s and ’60s.
When Ozzie and Harriet added their sons Ricky and David into the mix, the show skyrocketed in popularity. Their lovable personalities kept viewers coming back.
The boys managed to have fruitful careers after the show ended. Ricky became a chart-topping musician, and David was a successful actor and director. They earned enough accolades and fame to last a lifetime.
Like and subscribe for more on this long-running, popular comedy. Watch our video to learn about the tragic deaths of Ricky and David Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet began as a radio series in 1944. It began by highlighting its title characters. The boys were originally played by professional actors because they were too young for showbusiness
When Lindsay Crosby appeared on the show with her father Bing, Ricky and David begged their parents to join. They were a massive hit and elicited plenty of laughs. Radio Life Magazine once called them The Crown Princes of Radio.
A feature film called Here Come the Nelsons was released in 1952 and featured the whole family. It was such a success that it launched the show’s move to TV in 1952.
Ozzie signed a 10-year contract with ABC to ensure he’d be paid for 10 seasons even if it were canceled before that. He likely never expected to see the show run for as long as it did.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was the first scripted series to celebrate its 10th anniversary while still on the air. It ran for 4 more years after reaching that milestone. In fact, it was the longest-running comedy series in history until The Simpsons broke its record in 2004.
The show was nominated for 3 Primetime Emmys, including Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series, Best Art Direction of a Film Show, and Best Situation Comedy. David and Ricky were even nominated for a TV Land Award for Favorite Singing Siblings.
The show wasn’t the end for Ricky and David Nelson; it was only the beginning. They both went on to enjoy fruitful careers and eventful lives.
Ricky and David’s Tragic Deaths
Ricky Nelson died at the age of 45 on December 31, 1985, in De Kalb, Texas. Like far too many celebrities, he lost his life in a sudden plane crash.
Ricky, his band members, and his fiance Helen all left for a 3-stop U.S. tour after Christmas. Their last stop was in Dallas, Texas, on New Year’s Eve, but they never made it.
The group’s plane crashed into a cow pasture. 7 out of 9 occupants were killed, including Ricky, his bandmates, and Helen. Only the 2 pilots managed to escape before the plane caught fire.
Ricky had a reputation for hard partying, and this led to theories about his death. His children insist that the crash was caused by a malfunctioning heater and not the use of cocaine or other drugs. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s official report on the incident supports these claims.
Ricky’s body is interred at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills near his parents. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Ozzie died of liver cancer in 1975, and Harriet died of congestive heart failure in 1994. David was the last living member of the Nelson family until his death at the age of 74 on January 11, 2011, in Los Angeles, California.
He died at home from the effects of colon cancer. It’s the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths and claims the lives of approximately 27,000 men and 25,000 women per year. Risk factors include drinking, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and drinking. A family history of cancer may have also increased his risk.
David is survived by his wife Yvonne, his 4 sons and one daughter, and 7 grandchildren.
Like and subscribe for more on the faces behind your favorite shows. Keep watching to learn about Ricky and David Nelson’s life, careers, and experiences on one of the most enduring shows of all time.
Ricky’s Life and Career
Eric Hilliard Nelson was born on May 8, 1940, in Teaneck, New Jersey.
At first, Ricky had no desire to become a rock singer but, like many young men, he did it for a girl. One of his early girlfriends told him she loved Elvis Presley. In an attempt to impress her, he claimed he was also a rock singer.
At the age of 17, he made a hasty cover of Fats Domino’s song I’m Walkin. It added credibility to his claim and launched his music career.
Ricky and Elvis did have a few similarities. First of all, neither of them ever appeared on American Bandstand. Second, they both became heartthrobs.
Ricky was ranked #2 in TV Guide’s list of TV’s 25 Greatest Teen Idols and 91st in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Artists. He was a favorite on the charts from the beginning. His song Poor Little Fool, released on August 4, 1958, was the first to ever top Billboard’s Top 100 chart. His debut singles I’m Walkin and A Teenager’s Romance reached #4 and #2 on the Best Sellers in Stores chart, and 53 of his songs released from 1957-1973 reached the Top 100.
Ricky was one of the first teen idols to use television to promote his music. Performing his version of I’m Walkin’ on The Perry Como Music Hall helped it reach the top of the charts sell over 1 million copies.
Ricky performed several of his songs on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet from 1958-1965. Showing off his talent in this way increased his popularity and helped the show as well. He later appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966.
Ricky found a bit of success in films as well. He played Colorado in the 1959 film Rio Bravo. Johnny Cash had written a song for him to sing in it titled Restless Kid. Music director Dimitri Tiomkin insisted he perform a song he’d written called My Rifle, My Pony, and Me. He also insisted on the folk song Cindy.
Restless Kid summed up Ricky’s character well but never appeared in the film. It did show up on his 3rd album Ricky Sings Again, which was released in 1959.
Despite his popularity, not all of his performances went well. In 1971, Ricky played at The Rock Revival at Madison Square Garden. He didn’t get the memo about not wearing contemporary clothing and got booed off stage because of it. The experience inspired his hit song “Garden Party.” It reached #6 on the charts and went gold in 1972.
Ricky’s last public performance was Buddy Holly’s Rave On. It was also, ironically enough, the last song Buddy sang before his fatal plane crash in 1959.
Ricky started dating Sharon Kristin “Kris” Harmon in 1961. She also grew up in Hollywood as the daughter of football player Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox.
Kristin became part of the show but, when she got pregnant, Ozzie demanded they get married as soon as possible. This was the only way to protect the show’s clean image and, to protect it further, he explained the baby’s quick arrival as a premature birth.
Ricky and Kris were married on April 20, 1963. She joined The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as his “fictional” wife.
The couple had 4 children together; Tracy, twins Gunnar and Matthew, and Sam.
The marriage went downhill after, as Kris put it in a 1987 interview, they became “hippie rock n’ rollers” and started doing drugs. She went to therapy and convinced Ricky to join her, but he eventually stopped coming.
The couple divorced in 1977. A nasty legal battle over issues such as custody and reparations ensued and lasted until 1982.
Kristin left her youngest son Sam with her parents while trying to overcome her drug addiction. Ricky kept touring and eventually found a new fiance, Helen Blair.
David’s Life and Career
David Oswald Nelson was born on October 24th, 1936 in New York City.
The Nelson family moved to Hollywood in 1940. The bright lights of this new city may have sparked his interest in acting and filmmaking.
David attended Hollywood High School and graduated from the University of Southern California. He became a film producer and directed several episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
He revealed his true feelings about being on the show in an Esquire interview 5 years after it ended. He admitted that it was difficult to maintain the image of “everyone’s fantasy family.” They had to keep their personal and professional lives separate.
After The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet stopped airing, David found several other roles. He appeared in TV shows like Smash-Up on Interstate 5, The Big Circus, High School U.S.A., and Up In Smoke. His director credits included Childish Things in 1969, Death Screams in 1982, Last Plane Out in 1983, and Rare Breed in 1984. His final on-screen appearance was in John Waters’ 1990 film Cry-Baby.
David managed to receive one of his greatest honors before his death. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.
He was always a family man who cared for his children. His first marriage was to June Blaire. They had their first son Daniel on August 20, 1962, and their second son James on June 9th, 1966.
David divorced June and married Yvonne O’Connor Huston in 1975. He also adopted her 3 children as his own.
David participated in a documentary in memory of his brother. He hosted and narrated Rick Nelson: A Brother Remembers in 1987. He remained respectful and thoughtful, avoiding any slandering stories.
The Nelson family will be remembered forever for presenting the image of an ideal family in one of the most successful shows in the history of TV. Tragic events took each of them too soon, but their legacy lives on.
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