May 8, 1940 – December 31, 1985
“When I get to recording, I want you guys to do some oohin’ and aahin’ behind me.”
“I waited, and I’m sure Elvis did too, for each Ricky Nelson record… like we would a Chuck Berry record or a Fats Domino record, to see what was going on. I used to say to some of the guys that Ricky Nelson learned to sing on million selling records.” – Roy Orbison
Born to perhaps America’s most famous parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Ricky was a star from the very first episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. From his first appearance, the wisecracking kid brother, Ricky, was the show’s most popular character with his trademark line, “I don’t mess around, boy.” As television’s first and longest running situation comedy evolved, the show’s plots, written by Ozzie, revolved around Rick’s real life adventures, including girls, sports, and rock-n-roll.
One of the fun things about their show is that they used the exterior of their own home in Hollywood, for the exterior of their house for the show. Even odder, the sets were built to replicate their own home.
Obviously the layout of the exterior of the house has changed over the years, but if Ozzie were alive today, no doubt he’d pick up his mail, right here.
Unlike many child stars at the time, Ricky didn’t suffer from the traditional stage parents (hey what’s left of Bing’s kids, are you reading this?). By all accounts, Ozzie was actually a pretty nice guy (ok, a bit domineering) and when Ricky wanted to try his hand in music, Ozzie was his biggest supporter. Having the #1 show in America for promotion, Ricky’s first recordings were Fats Domino’s I’m Walkin’ followed by the do-wop ballads A Teenager Romance and You’re My One and Only Love. Right out of the gate Ricky had two Top Ten hits and was on the cover of every teen magazine on the stands (unfortunately his punk cred would not be attained until The Cramps did a wicked cover of Lonesome Town).
Ricky was now a bonafide star, filming Ozzie and Harriet from September through May, and recording and touring the summers with Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Everly Brothers, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then in 1962 Rick made the biggest friggin’ mistake of his life – he became engaged to Kristin Harmon (why didn’t he just marry his first real girlfriend, Lorrie Collins of the Collins Kids? Oh that’s right, both parents and managers thought marriage would ruin their careers). The daughter of football legend Tom Harmon and actress Eylse Knox and sister of actor Mark Harmon (who is married to actress Pam Dawber of Mork & Mindy (ugh.) fame). Eylse Knox commented to Harriet Nelson, “If the two quiet ones ever get together, there might be an explosion.” Dubbed “The Wedding of the Year” by Life magazine in 1963, the marriage began to unravel after the death of Ozzie in 1975.
After Ozzie’s death (where he was largely confined to the upstairs bedroom due to painful liver cancer in his final year), Harriet continued to live in the house until 1980 when she sold the house and moved permanently to their beloved cliffside Laguna Beach home. I’ve heard rumors of haunting in the Nelson house – one report of a woman waking up in the bedroom where Ozzie died, with her bed sheets pulled down and nightshirt pulled up… Ozzie, perving babes from beyond.
Back in 1995, the house was being renovated and painted. I saw the front door open, and decided to have a peek. God, I wish I had a camera. I had free reign of the house, which is why I know the sets are based on the real layout of the place. I climbed the stairs to Ozzie’s room, and a painter told me the story about the apparition he experienced in the bedroom. After hearing footsteps for weeks, he was on a ladder painting the ceiling, when he saw a faint cloud standing in the room beside the ladder. All her could really make out was a foot, when it faded away.
Back to Rick: Plagued with psychological problems (some close to the family preferred the term “bat shit crazy”), drugs and alcohol addiction, Kris spent most of Rick’s dwindling fortune on houses, cars, and lavish furnishings. Once Rick initiated divorce proceedings, Kris spent the next ten years in a vindictive, financially draining divorce whose sole purpose was to make Rick’s life a living hell. Consequently, Rick spent 200-300 days a year on the road performing.
This is what Rick looked like in 1971.
Useless fact of the day: Officer Jim Reed of Adam-12 took this picture (actor Kent McCord and Rick were good friends).
During the Christmas season in 1985, Kris (through her attorney) informed Rick he was behind on child support and alimony payments (funny thing, he wasn’t) forcing Rick and his band back out on the road the day after Christmas. Working at Baby-O Recorders in Hollywood two weeks prior to the holiday on new material, Nelson made his final recording – a cover of Buddy Holly‘s True Love Ways.
On Monday, December 30th, Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band gave their final performance in Guntersville, Alabama. Rick was staying in the Holiday Inn,
his room being this one.
Their show was at PJ’s (co-owned by his former guitarist Pat Upton) which was eventually turned into a pizza joint.
Rick entered the building through this door.
To close the show, they sang Buddy Holly‘s Rave On, and Rick’s last words onstage were, “Rave on for me!” He left the building and returned to his hotel. You can see photographs of Rick’s last show, here.
The next morning after grabbing snacks at the local grocery store, the band left for a New Year’s Eve show at the Park Suite in Dallas, Texas.
They boarded the plane at the Guntersville airport,
which is the last place Rick Nelson touched land, alive.
Four hours into the flight, the pilot radioed Fort Worth, “I think I’d like to turn around, uh, head for Texarkana here. I’ve got a little problem.” Minutes later the pilot radioed again “Smoke in the cockpit. Have smoke in the cockpit…” at 5:14 p.m. the plane disappeared from radar. The DC-3, previously owned by notorious widow-maker, Jerry Lee Lewis, plunged to the ground, severing power lines and slamming into a tree, losing a wing.
Witnesses described, “It was on fire when it came over me… Smoke was just belching out of the right side.” As the two pilots scrambled from the cockpit windows, flames as high as 70 feet leapt from the wreckage, which burned for hours, well into the night. The bodies were found huddled near the cockpit door.
Rick, model Helen Blair (now his fiancï¿½e) and band members Bobby Neal, Rick Intveld, Andy Chapin and Pat Woodward, together with his road manager Clark Russell all perished in the flames. And while the “free basing” rumors still abound, there was no evidence in the NTSB report of drug use by any of the passengers during the flight, though toxicology reports on Rick indicated trace amounts of cocaine in his system.
The next morning Rick’s son Matthew (one-half of the “rock” group Nelson) was driving home, happily singing along to Garden Party when the radio announcer came on afterward and said, “That was a tribute to Rick Nelson, who died today in a plane crash.” Matthew began screaming hysterically. Ironically both Matthew and twin, Gunnar, were supposed to have accompanied their Dad on the plane, but Rick changed his mind just days before his departure. Unfortunately Harriet Nelson was also informed of her son’s death from a newscast that afternoon.
Death Hag Valerie Jung Gilbert sends this: The back part of the plane is kept at the “Williams house”. While we went to find the crash site, the lady who gave tours of the Williams house by appointment, wasn’t answering the phone. We tried the police station (it was closed), we tried city hall, ok it was Saturday so not as surprised to find that closed. Went next door to the barbecue place, (that’s where all the police are) and a lady inside gave us directions. Of course the whole restaurant was staring at us. Anyway, with her directions and pictures we loaded on my phone we came up with this spot. Nothing there to mark it, just the top of a telephone pole missing. Cords are…N 33° 29.810 W 094° 36.345. Now while I did bring my Death Hag sticker, it was already adhered to my cd case, so I brought the whole cover.
In the late 1930s film legend Errol Flynn purchased 11.5 acres in the Hollywood Hills just off Mulholland and built his dream home which was completed in 1941. Featuring an unbroken line of windows with a spectacular view of Los Angeles, a black-bottom pool, custom stables for his horses, an elaborate bar, and several secret passageways Flynn lived the good life with three wives and a 15-year-old girlfriend in this sprawling farmhouse. However after 20 years his hard-living lifestyle forced the sale of the home in 1959 to his first wife Lila Damita. Shortly after, Flynn died from a massive heart attack and Damita sold the home to C&W artist Stuart Hamblin. In 1977, with a wife and four children underfoot, Ricky Nelson purchased the historic Mulholland home. Problem was the previous occupant(s) never left.
From an interview several years ago Tracy Nelson remembers:
“My bedroom used to be Beverly Aadland’s (Errol’s 15-year-old girlfriend) and we used to always smell this funky perfume, a really cheap perfume. All sorts of weird things went on: my shower door would open and close in the middle of the night; the toilet would flush; my shades would roll up for no reason. When I was going to school, girls would have slumber parties, but nobody would stay at my house.”
After moving out to her own apartment after too many ghostly encounters, Tracy talked about the paranormal activity after her father’s death:
“It had been playful before, but after my father died, it turned malevolent. My brothers and I could literally feel when my father’s presence was gone and when he left, it just turned ugly and scary in the house. My (now) ex-husband always had a hard time believing any of this ghost stuff. After Dad died, we were removing some furniture and he went outside and refused to go back in. He told me, “Something’s in that house, and I don’t even want to be anywhere near it.”
After several years of abandonment and a horrific murder of a young woman in the living room, the house mysteriously burned to the ground. Here’s what’s left of it – just the chimney.
The funeral and private burial at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, CA was quite a spectacle – for all the wrong reasons. As the funeral began, Kris stepped from the limousine into a hostile crowd, which included her own children. David Nelson and Rick’s children eulogized him, and Matthew and Gunnar sang their father’s song Easy to Be Free. At the end of the services, Kris physically threw daughter Tracy Nelson down to the ground and started hitting her before bystanders intervened. Seems Kris went bananas, having learned she was specifically left out of the will and life insurance money.
Two days later, Rick was quietly and privately laid to rest near his father in Plot 3540 in the Revelation Section. Kris showed up late to this, and during the ritual, David lost his cool and hissed the word, “Murderess,” to Kris.
For those who cannot pay their respects to Ricky at Forest Lawn, Room 106 of the Guntersville Holiday Inn, which has become a hallowed shrine along rock-n-roll’s sacred trail of the dearly departed. It’s where one-time teen idol Ricky Nelson spent the last two days of his life before his untimely death on December 31, 1985. A permanent wall shrine entitled “The Last Two Days” has been maintained in the hotel lobby, complete with photos, mementoes, and memorabilia of Nelson’s last performances.
And most sacred of all, Room 106 has been christened the Rick Nelson Room and is available for viewing.
We are deeply indebted to my pal Dusty Hubbard for those great pictures of the airport, club and hotel. Thanks Dusty!
On August 22, 1985 just 4 months before his death, Rick made out his will, mincing very few words with regard to his ex wife. “I hereby declare that I am not married at this time and was divorced from Kristin Nelson in 1982 and specifically and intentionally fail to provide for her herein.” Apparently at one point it came about that a person named Eric Crewe may have been Rick’s son. A paternity test was given, and it was proven with 99.6% accuracy that Eric was indeed Rick’s son, from a one night stand with a woman in Great Gorge, NJ. Insert obvious joke and penis here. In Rick’s will, he makes specific mention that “I dispute the paternity of said minor child.” You can get a copy of Rick’s will here.
Harriet loved Ricky. I know this because I do.
Trivia: According to my pal Chris Epting in his book Elvis Presley Passed here, Rick used to play touch football with Elvis Presley, and sometimes Pat Boone and Max Baer Jr., in this park.
Thank you SS, Janet Brandis, Harry and Dusty Hubbard.