Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ozzie Nelson's Struggles in His Final Months

Monica Otayza
Sep 03, 2021
09:39 A.M.
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The Nelson family became a television staple during the 1950s in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” But in 1975, their real-life adventures as a family came to an end when patriarch Ozzie Nelson died after a long illness.

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Ozzie Nelson’s daily two-mile swims in the Pacific Ocean stopped when he got diagnosed with liver cancer in 1974. The previous year, Ozzie shocked his religious fans when he published his autobiography, “Ozzie,” and revealed that he had been a lifelong atheist.

Having made peace with a terminal diagnosis after he had surgery, friends told the New York Times that Ozzie knew about the seriousness of his diagnosis “and accepted it philosophically.” After his surgery, Ozzie lamented that his condition was “odd for a guy who never drank or smoked.” 

Ozzie Nelson, Harriet Nelson, David Nelson and Ricky Nelson circa 1952. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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ACCEPTING HIS FATE

Unfortunately for Ozzie, surgery could not help him beat his illness, and he died eight months later at the age of 69, on June 3, 1975. At the time of his death, he was in his San Fernando Valley home in California surrounded by his wife Harriet and their sons Ricky and David.

He is remembered as the perfect embodiment of the "All-American Dad," having been a boy scout, athlete, and lawyer at different points in his life. He was also a good singer and was often mistaken for popular musician Rudy Vallee.

Ozzie Nelson, Harriet Nelson, David Nelson and Ricky Nelson circa 1955. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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THEIR FAMILY LEGACY

His career in the entertainment industry began with The Nelson band, where he hired beauty queen Harriet Hilliard as the vocalist. By 1935, Ozzie and Harriet were married.

For 14 years, Harriet and Ozzie were America’s ideal fantasy couple. Their two sons grew up in front of the camera on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," a show patterned after their real lives and shot in their own home from 1952 until 1966.

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FACTS ABOUT THE SHOW

Ozzie and Harriet were at first hesitant for their son Ricky to indulge in rock music on their show. However, they ended up agreeing to it to boost their youth audience. 

This turned out to be a great move for the family, as it was Ricky's popularity that kept the show running. In fact, because of him being such a family favorite, it was once reported that Ozzie allegedly prevented him and his brother from attending college to continue working on television.

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ABANDONING THE SHOW

A known workaholic and shrewd businessman, Ozzie didn’t just star in the television show but also supervised as editor, director, and producer. Due to his influence, Ozzie made his son, Ricky, the first television teen idol when he incorporated his son’s musical talents into plots on the series.

An entire generation grew up with their TV show, with his children's wives even being written into the scripts at one point. Because of this fact, deciding to end the series was "the toughest of my life – like killing off a whole set of people loved by millions," as he would put it.

David and Ricky Nelson in 1959. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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THEIR GROWN CHILDREN'S CAREERS

Ultimately, Ricky Nelson appeared in several movies, including "Red River." He was also a popular rock singer, with Peter Jones once describing him this way

''He was a paradox. He was so charming, so manipulative, but he did not ultimately take responsibility for his life. He didn't know how to be a grown-up, which was chilling.''

Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in 1964. | Wikimedia Commons

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THEIR UNFORTUNATE DEATHS

Unfortunately, ten years after his father's death, 45-year-old Ricky died in a plane crash while en route to a concert in Texas on December 31, 1985. Almost another ten years after Ricky’s death, matriarch Harriet passed from congestive heart failure at 85 on October 2, 1994.

David, who worked as a producer and director in Hollywood, also passed away after suffering a battle with colon cancer. This led to his death on January 10, 2011. 

David Nelson in 1958. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

The family legend lives on through Ricky’s twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson. Only 18 years old when their father died, the two started writing songs at the age of six and went on to have successful careers in the music industry, following in their family's footsteps.

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