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Ricky Nelson’s Son Called Mom ‘Dragon’ Who Didn’t Allow Him to See Siblings - His Uncle Mark Harmon Tried to Take Him Away from Her

Bettina Dizon
Mar 28, 2022
09:40 P.M.
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Following Ricky Nelson and Kristin Harmon's split, their son's life fell apart. Kristin ended up in a feud with her brother, Mark, who wanted custody of Sam because of her incapacity to care for him properly.


When American singer Ricky Nelson died, his son, Sam, was left alone with his mother, Kristin Harmon. At that time, Kristin was in an unstable position, struggling with drug addiction. Her brother, Mark, stepped in to help and tried to get custody of Sam while Kristin checked in rehab.

However, Mark's decision was met with restraint from his sister and resulted in a family feud. Years later, the Harmon found themselves working things out and agreeing to seek professional help.

Ricky Nelson and Kristin Harmon in a side-by-side photo with Mark Harmon. | Source: Getty Images



Kristin met Ricky, the son of superstars Ozzie and Harriet, at 12 years old. At that time, he starred in their family sitcom, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." Falling in love with Ricky came as a breeze, and when she turned 18 in 1963, the pair tied the knot.

Six months later, the couple welcomed their first child, Tracy, who appeared in "Yours, Mine, and Ours" and starred in "The Father Dowling Mysteries." In 1967, Kristin gave birth to their second and third child, twins Gunnar and Matthew.

Their fourth and last child, Sam, came in 1974. For some time, Kristin and Ricky lived happily with their children but eventually caught up in a partying lifestyle. "We were hippie rock 'n' rollers," Kristin said in the '80s. "We did what everyone else was doing all those years."


Rick Nelson and Kristin Nelson's portrait, circa 1967. | Source: Getty Images

When their marriage became shaky, Kristin tried to be "one of the guys" and involved herself with drugs, but she told her family as it became a problem. Sadly, Kristin and Ricky ended their marriage in 1980. Kristin filed for divorce and was initially granted custody of their kids.


Eventually, Ricky gave $4,000 a month in child support and received joint custody. Before their divorce was finalized in 1982, there were accusations of drug and alcohol abuse between the couple.

At that time, Kristin continued her drug usage excessively. She would be too intoxicated with alcohol to be an artist and instead took a job as an assistant casting director. Her sister, Kelly, would care for Sam every afternoon until the young boy lived with their parents for 18 months.

Ricky Nelson at London Airport with Kristin Harmon, February 16, 1972. | Source: Getty Images



Sadly, in 1985, Ricky tragically died in a plane crash along with his fiancee, Helen Blair. When it went down, the aircraft was bound for Love Field, Dallas, when it went down. There have been different discussions about the cause of the crash, including a fire that began in the cockpit.

Eventually, the court awarded Mark custody of Sam, while Kristin had a restraining order 200 yards away from her brother's home and Pam's work.

"The plane made one more circle over the area and then crashed in flames," Michael Cox, the Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, said.


Ricky Nelson poses for a photo at on May 17, 1958 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

According to federal investigators' suspicion. The fire was ignited by a kind of cocaine use called "free-basing." Preliminary reports indicated the singer's body had traces of unmetabolized cocaine, meaning his system had not yet absorbed the drug during his death.


According to the pilot and co-pilot, who are both survivors, a fire began in the passenger cabin. They tried to land the plane as soon as they learned of the hazard. Neither of the two had traces of alcohol or drugs in their bloodstream.

Propellants from aerosol cans, paraphernalia for free-basing, were found in the aircraft's remains. However, most of the cans were discovered in the baggage area, which may have come from hair spray or antiperspirant cans.

A portrait of Ricky Nelson, circa 1960. | Source: Getty Images


After several investigations, the National Safety Board investigators ruled out drugs as the cause of the fire. However, the initial cause could not be determined.


Following Ricky's death, Kristin's brother, Mark, urged her to enter rehabilitation for her addiction. She once shared:

“Nobody but my brother could have talked me into this because I trusted him. A voice inside my head said, 'For once in your life, let somebody help you.'”

However, after her stay in rehab, Kristin found out that Mark and his wife, Pam, sought custody of Sam because of Kristin's drug dependency. Sam was 12 at that time.


Mark Harmon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on April 22, 2009. | Source: Getty Images

Sam portrayed his mother as a scary woman and even compared her to a "dragon who wouldn't let him see his other siblings or family members." Sam found comfort and security staying with Mark and Pam while his mom was in rehab. Sam's doctor, Gary Chase, revealed what the boy told him:


“It's scary to be around someone on drugs.”

In three interviews, he also revealed that Sam told him that he was "made angry by arguments from his mother induced by mood swings from her taking drugs. At times [Kristin] would be happy or asleep or real mad or on his case about something."

Mark Harmon in Beverly Hills, California on March 10, 2010. | Source: Getty Images


Eventually, the court awarded Mark custody of Sam, while Kristin had a restraining order 200 yards away from her brother's home and Pam's work. The family feud continued alongside court hearings and accusations.

One day, Mark told Kristin's lawyer that they no longer wanted the issue to persist. "Too much blood has been spilled," he said. Mark and Kristin later worked out an agreement where she was given custody of Sam.

Mark, on the other hand, was granted visitation rights. Both also agreed to get professional help from a family therapist.

Mark Harmon during the photocall at the Bayerischen Hof on May 25, 2010 in Munich, Germany. | Source: Getty Images



Sam would later graduate from Boston College with a degree in psychology and restore the relationship he once had with his mother. In a 2016 interview, Sam said:

“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.”

Sam inherited his father's musical talents and interned at MCA Records. He became a lead vocalist and songwriter for the band H is Orange.


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