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Lucille Ball Said Heartfelt Goodbye to Desi Arnaz before He Died despite Being Divorced for 26 Years

Oyin Balogun
Jun 27, 2022
07:00 A.M.
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Lucille Ball's relationship with Desi Arnaz was tumultuous, but decades after it ended, the two still harbored some feelings for one another. Just before he passed away, they exchanged declarations of love. Here are the details.

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Before their paths crossed, Lucille Ball, a fiery redheaded actress, was known for her independent streak. At the same time, Desi Arnaz, who fled Cuba with his family in 1933, made a living as a musician who played at nightclubs with his band.

The pair first met in 1940 while working on the set of the RKO movie titled "Too Many Girls." It was an unlikely match because Arnaz was already engaged at the time of their meeting, and Ball was known to prefer older and taller men.

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

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This should have been enough to keep their relationship strictly professional, but the chemistry between them was electrifying. It was evident in how they related with one another off the set, but it seemed so spontaneous that nobody believed it would last long.

Their co-stars even placed bets about how long it would last because everything was happening too fast.

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

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SHE BECAME SUBMISSIVE AROUND HIM

Before meeting Arnaz, Ball was known to be a strong, willful woman. However, after falling in love with the singer, she took a secondary role to him, often trying to please him.

According to those close to her, she doted on him, getting him all he wanted regardless of what it was. All he had to do was ask. Their love grew by leaps and bounds after their first meeting, and six months later, the pair eloped and proceeded to consummate the relationship with a wedding.

It did not take long for her to get pregnant, but her first three tries ended in miscarriages before they finally had their first child, Lucie, on July 17, 1951. Their second child, Desi Jr., was born on January 19, 1953.

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Desi Arnaz embraces his wife, Lucille Ball while watching a televised football game at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs, California, circa 1953 | Source : Getty Images

Desi Arnaz embraces his wife, Lucille Ball while watching a televised football game at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs, California, circa 1953 | Source : Getty Images

HIS BAD HABITS THREATENED THEIR UNION

Before their kids were born, she nursed her soaring acting career, and he went on tours all over the country with his rumba band. As time passed, their relationship started turning stale because of their continued separation.

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During that phone call, Lucie heard Ball tell Arnaz that she loved him five times in a row.

Ball tried to get out of the relationship in 1944 when she filed for divorce because of his infidelity and alcoholism, but after talking things through, the pair reconciled.

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball pose with their son Desi Arnaz Jr. | Source: Getty Images

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball pose with their son Desi Arnaz Jr. | Source: Getty Images

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In 1950, things turned around after Ball insisted Arnaz be cast as her husband in a TV version of "My Favourite Husband" because she wanted to find a way to make their wedding last.

At first, executives at CBS balked at the idea because they feared fans would not like Arnaz's Cuban accent. Still, after the couple took a similarly themed stage show and turned it into a success, the management relented and obliged Ball by creating a show titled "I Love Lucy."

American actors and comedian Lucille Ball and her husband, Cuban-born actor and bandleader Desi Arnaz, laugh and smile while holding their two children, Desi Jr and Lucie | Source: Getty  Images

American actors and comedian Lucille Ball and her husband, Cuban-born actor and bandleader Desi Arnaz, laugh and smile while holding their two children, Desi Jr and Lucie | Source: Getty Images

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Ahead of the show, the couple formed Desilu, the first independent TV production company. "I Love Lucy" became the most successful comedy series on TV, earning the pair's production company millions. The couple were already TV stars by the time their second child was born.

His birth was perfectly timed to the same day Ball's character on "I Love Lucy" gave birth, making her the first woman whose pregnancy was played out on TV. The same night Desi Jr. was born, a pre-taped episode aired in which Ball's character welcomed a son they named Little Ricky.

American actress Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz  arrive at a CBS party in honor of Johnny Carson, 30th June 1955 | Source: Getty Images

American actress Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz arrive at a CBS party in honor of Johnny Carson, 30th June 1955 | Source: Getty Images

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Fans loved their TV family, but Arnaz and Ball were having issues with their marriage behind closed doors. They had many fights, but never in public, and by the time the smoke cleared, the pair would be back together like nothing had ever happened.

Their daughter, Lucie, once confessed her parents fought all through her childhood and even tagged the divorce as "horrible." The strain of handling Desilu and the insecurities of being less important than his wife drove Arnaz to seek solace in a bottle, and he never stopped his womanizing.

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

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It eventually led to their separation in 1960, 20 years after their marriage. Lucie later confessed that getting the divorce was the best thing for her parents and that they had a "great divorce."

Lucie said the divorce was fantastic because no terrible words were exchanged before their kids. Their bond only seemed to become more passionate and friendly after they were no longer bound by marriage.

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz | Source: Getty Images

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AFTER THEIR DIVORCE

After their separation, Arnaz and Ball kept working together at Desilu. Two years later, Arnaz was having trouble running the company. In 1962, Ball bought his company shares for $2.5 million, becoming the first woman to head a major Hollywood production studio as CEO.

She was able to steer the company to tremendous success in the years that followed so that when she sold it in 1967 to Gulf + Western/Paramount, the value had increased to $17.5 million. They both remarried later on; Arnaz to Edith Hirsch in 1963 and Ball to Gary Morton in 1962.

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz on March 1941 | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz on March 1941 | Source: Getty Images

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William Asher, director of "I Love Lucy," later admitted that Arnaz had been unhappy about their split, and the emotion was mirrored in Ball; however, while they remained cordial, they never got back together.

THEIR LAST YEARS

In his later years, Arnaz was diagnosed with lung cancer caused by his lifelong habit of smoking Cuban cigars. Between 1969 and 1970, he underwent four surgical procedures to get rid of inflammation in his intestinal tract, but he was hospitalized because of it again in 1981.

He passed away five years later, on December 2, 1986, from complications related to lung cancer. He was 69. Their daughter Lucie, now 70, opened up to PEOPLE about what turned out to be her dad's final exchange with her mom over a phone call.

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American actress and comedian Lucille Ball (1911 - 1989) with her family during a tribute to her by the Museum of Broadcasting in New York City, April 1984 | Source: Getty Images

American actress and comedian Lucille Ball (1911 - 1989) with her family during a tribute to her by the Museum of Broadcasting in New York City, April 1984 | Source: Getty Images

The day they spoke last was on November 30, their wedding anniversary, even though nobody realized it at the time. Lucie had been caring for her father in his illness and had called her mother to let her know the end was near.

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She asked if Ball wanted to say anything to him, and the woman had responded with a yes, so she placed the phone by her father's ear. During that phone call, Lucie heard Ball tell Arnaz that she loved him five times in a row while he nodded and replied to her, saying:

"I love you too, honey."

Desi Arnaz during 1976 Horse Ball at Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, California | Source: Getty Images

Desi Arnaz during 1976 Horse Ball at Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, California | Source: Getty Images

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Two days later, Arnaz, whom Lucie had loved despite his faults, passed away in her arms. Speaking about their marriage and its connection with their show, Lucie confirmed that the purpose of the show was to keep them together and save their family.

According to her, "They gave the country this wonderful creation, but they never got what they wanted — to stay together. But they loved each other until the end."

American actress Lucille Ball  attends a Thalians Ball, circa 1975 | Source: Getty Images

American actress Lucille Ball attends a Thalians Ball, circa 1975 | Source: Getty Images

She called "I Love Lucy," a show that depicted unconditional love and forgiveness, something they both managed to offer each other during their lifetime. Ball passed away less than three years after Arnaz died from cardiac arrest.

She was 77, and the tragedy occurred a week after she underwent heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA.

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