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Ricky Nelson's Wife Kristin Struggled with Addiction & Once Had Legal Battle with Mark Harmon

Rodolfo Vieira
Oct 17, 2019
09:30 A.M.
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Kristin Harmon, the sister of actor Mark Harmon, was married to musician Ricky Nelson for several years and had four children together. Unfortunately, she struggled with substance abuse.


Unlike her brother, Kristin is no longer around, having passed away at the age of 72 in 2018, and although she didn't have a brilliant career like the "NCIS" star, she was able to make a name for herself despite her short career.

Daughter to football star and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox Harmon, Kristin got her first gig on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," where she met her future husband, Ricky.

Ricky Nelson posing for a portrait with Kristin Nelson in 1967 | Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images



Kristin was only 12 years old at the time, but the two hit it off right away. Not only did she make friends with him, but she also felt a deep love for the Nelsons, which helped develop their romance later on.

As soon as Kristin turned 18, in 1963, she tied the knot with Ricky, and that be the start of a whole journey for her because the singer was already a star in the music industry at the time and she would find herself in the spotlight quite often.

Kristi Harmon and Ricky Nelson in 1972 at London Airport in London, England | Source: Getty Images



Eventually, the happy couple welcome 4 children into the world: twin sons Gunnar Eric Nelson and Matthew Gray Nelson, Tracy Kristine Nelson, and Sam Hilliard Nelson.

All of them followed in their parents' footsteps and pursued a career in the entertainment and music industry. In the twins’ case, they founded the band Nelson, while Tracy became an actress, dancer, and writer. Much like his brothers, Sam decided to become a singer and songwriter.



Although Kristin and Ricky’s relationship started off well, they soon got caught up in the dangerous lifestyle of partying hard. In 1987, she described themselves as "hippie rock n' rollers" and said that they were just doing what everyone else was doing. She added:

"I tried to be one of the guys, to fix the marriage by going on the road and being involved in road stuff that is really not good for anyone. After a while, we were totally messed up, both of us."



Kristin shared that she got into therapy but stopped showing up after a while, and claimed that she tried to warn her family that she had a drug problem but that they denied it, believing that there was nothing wrong.

She filed for divorce in 1980 and was granted temporary custody of their children. She was continued to use drugs and drinking, even after the divorce was finalized 2 years later.



In 1985, Ricky died in a plane crash and Kristin’s life just kept spiraling out of control, so Mark started a custody battle with her over Sam, her youngest child, in 1987. At that point, she was undergoing drug rehabilitation.

Harmon's departure was announced following the suspension of his character, Leroy Gibbs, from the force.

Although she praised her brother for convincing to her get into rehab, ultimately saving her life, she didn't appreciate the fact that he was trying to take her child away from her.

Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on "NCIS" | Photo: Erik Voake/CBS via Getty Images


Ultimately, Mark and his wife, Pam Dawber, succeeded, even if temporarily, and Kristin was ordered to stay 200 yards away from their home as well as Pam's workplace.

After a while, the 3 came to an agreement and Kristin regained custody of Sam, with Mark being granted visiting rights. The siblings also agreed to go into family therapy.

Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber at the National Hero Awards | Source: Getty Images



Kristin finally got sober, and, in 1988, she married TV producer and director Mark Tinker, but called it quits 12 years later. Despite all the drama, Sam he revealed during a 2016 interview that he and his mother were “absolutely close," adding:

“As you get older, things that were important aren’t important anymore. Problems aren’t problems anymore. You work through them, or you don’t. But for the most part, you hope to.”


As aforementioned, Kristin passed away back in 2018 after suffering a heart attack and her death was announced by her daughter, Tracy, on Facebook, describing it as “sudden” and “unexpected.”

At the moment, her children are focused on their respective careers. Mark Harmon, on the other hand, has moved on from "NCIS," where he was the star for several years as well as one of its producers.

Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on "NCIS" | Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images



The legendary actor was the star of the show for a total of 18 seasons, with showrunner Steve Binder praising Harmon for all that he has given to the series, not only in front of the cameras but also behind them.

He described Harmon as an "integral part of the fabric of the show," and CBS Entertainment President, Kelly Kahl, stated that the 70-year-old will always be part of the show, even if he is away.

Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on "NCIS" | Photo: Eric Mccandless/CBS via Getty Images)


Harmon's departure was announced following the suspension of his character, Leroy Gibbs, from the force after he assaulted an animal abuser and murder, as well as the explosion that almost killed him in the season finale.

As for whether fans can hope to see Gibbs return to the small screen, Kahl said that they will have to see how everything plays out but Binder added that fans should "never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out."