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Hard Times For Rick Nelson's Four Children After The Loss Of Their Iconic Father

Bettina Dizon
Mar 11, 2021
02:50 A.M.
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Rick Nelson had a colorful life and career, which his children, Sam, Gunnar, Matthew, and Tracy, tried to carry on after their father's passing.

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As Harriet and Ozzie Nelson's son, Rick Nelson became an iconic rock 'n' roll artist and achieved success both in the music and film industry.

After his tragic death, Rick's four children continued building on the family's legacy while finding their way through life. Here's a look at their story.

Image credits: Wikipedia

Image credits: Wikipedia

Image credits: Wikipedia

RICK NELSON

Rick became part of the professional entertainment industry when he was just a young boy. Before turning ten years old, he made an appearance with his father, Ozzie, mother Harriet, and his brother David on a radio comedy series based on their family's life. The show became a massive hit in the '50s, hitting TV screens all across the nation.

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He didn't have any professional singing ambitions until he decided to create a recording in hopes to impress his girlfriend. The recorded cover, "I'm Walkin,'" blew up straight to number four, with the "Ozzie & Harriet" TV show plugs helping him out along the way.

Away from the world of music, Ricky also ventured into acting. He starred alongside John Wayne in "Rio Bravo," for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination for "Most Promising Male Newcomer." Along the way, Nelson met Kristin Harmon, and in April 1963, the pair tied the knot.

Image Credits: Getty Images/ RICK NELSON

Image Credits: Getty Images/ RICK NELSON

Image Credits: Getty Images/ RICK NELSON

The Harmons and Nelsons were great longtime family friends, so it didn't take too long before they bonded. Their union brought four beautiful children - but their marriage wasn't a strong one.

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The pair ended up divorcing in December 1982 because Kris reportedly abused alcohol and drugs, leading to poor parenting.

For the next dozen years, Nelson continued to record on and off and continuously went on tours, but he couldn't have any luck in capitalizing on his assets. In fact, interest in the rockstar seemed to have steadily died down in the last decade of his life.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Unfortunately, the last few decades of his life ended just as tragically, during a private plane crash in 1985. Nelson was on his way to a New Year's Eve gig in Dallas, alongside his new fiancee, Helen Blair, whom he met in Las Vegas in 1980.

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Even though Rick's unexpected death hit the family hard, the Nelson household's troubles began long before his death.

HIS TRAGIC DEATH

Nelson started a "Comeback tour" with Fats Domino. After shows in Florida and Guntersville, Ricky and his band took off for a New Year's Eve extravaganza at the Park Suite Hotel in Dallas, Texas. The flight was delayed due to rain and some failures in the plane's engine.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

But finally, at 2:00 pm, the DC-3 white aircraft departed. When it was near the Texas border, things got bad. The transportation had smoke in the cockpit and asked for emergency landing fields. The pilot managed to put the plane down in a cow pasture, but the on-board fire was intense.

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HIS SORROWFUL MEMORIAL SERVICE

It took the lives of seven of the passengers, including Nelson, on December 31, 1985. Those who knew the star gathered in the little Church of the Hills on January 6, 1986, nearly a week after Eric Hilliard Nelson passed away in a Texas plane crash.

The pop star's remains were misdirected in transit from Texas to California, an issue that delayed the funeral.

Image Credits: Getty Images/ RICK NELSON

Image Credits: Getty Images/ RICK NELSON

Image Credits: Getty Images/ RICK NELSON

His family had been in seclusion since they learned the sad news; however, they decided that his funeral had to be open to the public, just like his life. A crowd of around 1,000 people watched the Nelson family say farewell.

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The service started with Jesuit Father Frank Parrish giving a 20-minute sermon, as per PEOPLE. Part of it included the words, "I think of him in heaven playing his instrument while all the heavenly beings gather around him, just like the teenagers on earth."

His 22-year-old daughter Tracy eulogized his father, claiming that he was the kindest man on Earth and she would remember him for his grace, gentleness, wisdom, and class. The star's twin sons, Gunnar and Matthew, sang "Easy To Be Free," while his other son Sam read a poem.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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It was undoubtedly challenging for the relatives to contain the emotions in such a mournful and moving occasion. After the memorial, the family had a private burial service in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. The music legend will always be deeply missed.

SAM NELSON

Sam lost his father at the age of twelve. Up until that point, Sam experienced his father through his work and recalled:

"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."

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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.

Sam went to college in Spain for a short while before returning 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.

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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 his grandparents, Harriet and Ozzie Nelson's estate.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sam described his father's death as "surreal" as he saw him last on Christmas Day, only a few days before he died. He shared:

"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."

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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 number one 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 number one hits.

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During an interview with Lifestyle Magazine, the twins revealed that the family's roots in showbiz went further back than their grandparents. They began writing songs at the early age of six years old.

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." "With all these years since."

Image Credits: Getty Images

Image Credits: Getty Images

Image Credits: Getty Images

A year after their father's demise, Lorne Michaels agreed to have them as musical guests on Saturday Night Live, making them the first unsigned band to play on the show. The twins feel that the challenges in their lives would not have been possible if they didn't have each other to lean on.

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"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.

Gunnar is happily married to Lila Kersavage. The pair tied the knot in 2013, and they are living in Nashville, Tennesse, together with Lila's three daughters from her previous marriage.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

On the other hand, Matthew is married to Kari Ahlstrom, with whom he shares a son. Their little bundle of joy, born on August 29, 2014, was named Ozzie Matthew Nelson, after his grandfather.

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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." By the age of five, Tracy already had a film credit to her name.

She played one of Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball's daughters in the 1968 movie "Yours, Mine and Ours." Tracy was twenty-one years old when her father died. She married Billy Moses two years later, on July 25, 1987, after meeting on the set of "Square Pegs."

Image Credits: Getty Images

Image Credits: Getty Images

Image Credits: Getty Images

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However, around the time of her wedding, Tracy suspected some physical ailment when she became weak, tired, and her neck glands got swollen. 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.

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 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 named Remington Elizabeth came into the world on August 11, 1992.

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#MaltinOnMovies: Tracy Nelson made a deep impression on a youthful audience in the 1980s TV series Square Pegs and is still acting today. She’s also part of show business royalty: her father was Ricky Nelson, her grandparents were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson https://t.co/6yaEywhOpl pic.twitter.com/MvUeBczbUe

— Leonard Maltin (@leonardmaltin) June 7, 2019

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. Sadly, Tracy and Billy's relationship did not work out, and the pair had a divorce in 1997.

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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.

It was unfortunate that the world had to say goodbye to Ricky when he was 45 years old. However, all of his children managed to carry on his legacy. They represented him both in the world of music and movies, and there is no doubt that he would be super proud of their individual achievements.

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