Meet Ozzie and Harriet's Four Grandchildren Who Went through Their Own Life Struggles

As the son of Harriet and Ozzie Nelson, Rick became an iconic rock ‘n’ roll artist. After his tragic death, Rick’s children continued building on the family’s legacy while finding their way in life.

Rick Nelson married Kristin Harmon on April 20, 1963, and together they had four children before they divorced in December 1982, Sam, the twins Matthew and Gunnar, and Tracy. 

Even though Rick’s unexpected death following an airplane crash on December 31, 1985, hit the family hard, the troubles in the Nelson household began long before his death.

SAM NELSON

As the youngest of the four children, Sam lost his father at the age of twelve. Up until that point, Sam experienced his father through his work. “I was fortunate I had an opportunity to grow up with him and learn who he was through the show and, more importantly, absolutely through the music in the show,” Sam told Medium.

But his mother’s alcohol abuse and unpredictable behavior led to Sam being placed in the custody of his maternal grandparents. With his father often away on tour, Sam hardly saw him for the next five years. 

The volatile relationship between Sam’s parents led to their divorce and restrictions in contact with his father. “There was a period when I would sneak over to my grandparents’ house to see Pop. We would go get ice cream or eat a burger, but those experiences were really few and far between,” Sam added.

After graduating from high school in Massachusetts, Sam went to college in Spain for a short while before he returned to the United States and ended up at Boston College. 

He earned a degree in psychology and minored in film, after which an internship at MCA Records gave him valuable experience in the music industry.

Following his dream, Sam made a life for himself in music and formed the alternative rock band H is Orange. Apart from being the lead vocalist and songwriter for the Los Angeles based band, Sam is also the manager of this grandparents, Harriet and Ozzie Nelson’s estate.

Sam described the death of his father as “surreal” as he saw him last on Christmas Day, only a few days before he died. 

“It was profound in all sorts of ways. The whole thing was very hard to wrap my head around. And for a long time, I was lost. I didn’t have a clue about what had happened, who he was, who I was, who my family was,” Sam told Medium in 2016.

But one anchor Sam always turned to, is his passion for music. “Music is my life. I grew up with entertainment all around me, all the time. Music was obviously an enormous part of my life,” Sam added.

GUNNAR AND MATTHEW

The twins formed the multi-platinum-selling band Nelson and released their debut album, After the Rain in 1990. The album featured several Top-40 singles that included “More Than Ever,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and the band’s signature song “Can’t Live Without Your Love and Affection.”

When their signature song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Gunnar and Matthew landed the whole family in the Guinness Book of World Records. They became the only family in the entertainment industry to have three generations with #1 hits.

During an interview with Lifestyle Magazine, the twins revealed that the family’s roots in showbiz went further back than their grandparents.

“The family started in entertainment before that, local shows, things like that. Our grandmother Harriet’s mother was a twin, they were called Hazel and Hattie,” Matthew said, while Gunnar added, “Apparently one side of our family came to the United States from Europe as circus performers.”

When their father died, Matthew heard the news over the radio while Gunnar saw it on television, but their grief didn’t feel like their own. “With all these years since,” Gunnar said. “I think we’ve gotten more comfortable with the fact that in a real sense people feel part of our family.”

The twins feel that “the things they had to endure” in their lives, would not have been possible if they didn’t have each other to lean on.

“There is a lot of things we have been through, that we truly believe and I know I do, that I wouldn’t have made it without having a twin. God actually provided for us,” Matthew said.

Their band continued to grow, and when the twins celebrated the 20th anniversary of their debut album in 2010 with a tour, they announced a new addition to their band. 

The multi-platinum frontman and lead guitarist, Mark Slaughter joined the fold before the band appeared in big rock festivals that included the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, MD, the Thunder Mountain Rock Fest, and The FireFest in Nottingham, England. 

"NELSON is lucky to have such an amazing addition to our band for the 20th Anniversary Tour. It's definitely going to ROCK!" Gunnar said.

TRACY NELSON

The only daughter of Rick Nelson became an actress. In the industry since childhood, Tracy starred as Henry Fonda’s daughter in the 1968 film, “Yours, Mine and Ours,” and later in series such as “Square Pegs” and “Melrose Place.

Twenty-one years old when her father died, she married Billy Moses two years later on July 25, 1987, after they met on the set of “Square Pegs.” However, around the time of her wedding, Tracy suspected some physical ailment when she became weak, tired, and her neck glands got swollen. A “prophetic dream” had Tracy take her condition seriously.

“My father called me on the phone and said, I know you miss me, but it’s not time for you to die. You have to go see a doctor,” Tracy told PEOPLE.

The doctor's visit turned into a confirmed Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis after they found a grapefruit-sized tumor in her chest.

The actress underwent a seven-hour surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and doctors removed her spleen, a section of her liver, and samples taken of her lymph nodes.

“I was opened from right under my rib cage all the way down to my pelvic region. I was like a human biology project,” Tracy added.

Months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed until Tracy got declared cancer-free by the summer of 1988. Tracy and Billy dreamt of having children, and after spending time on getting her health back on track, she fell pregnant two and a half years later.

“I was stunned. It was a relief on the one hand, but terrifying on the other. I wondered whether my baby would be all right,” Tracy recalled. Their baby girl, whom they named Remington Elizabeth, came into the world on August 11, 1992, and in perfect health.

Tracy’s health took a turn for the worst a week after Remington’s birth. Paramedics arrived just in time and Tracy spent another four days in the hospital where she got treated and went home for good after that.

In 2019, Tracy paid tribute to her grandmother, Harriet Nelson on what would have been her 110th birthday. The beloved family matriarch passed away on October 2, 1994, from congestive heart failure at the age of 85 and Tracy recalled a few memories in her heartwarming post.

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