RICKY NELSON Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Eric Hilliard Nelson                                                             
Born: 8 May 1940 Teaneck, New Jersey                                                   
Died: 31 December 1985                                                                 
Eric Hilliard "Ricky" Nelson, later known as Rick Nelson (May 8, 1940 - December       
31, 1985), was an American singer, musician, and actor.                                 
Born in Teaneck, New Jersey, he was the younger son of Ozzie Nelson, the leader         
of a big band, and Harriet Hilliard Nelson, the band's singer. Along with               
brother David Nelson, the family starred in the long-running radio and                 
television series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet from 1944 to 1954 on the         
radio, and 1952 to 1966 on television. However, David and Ricky Nelson did not         
join the cast until 1949; for the first five years of the radio show, the sons         
were played by professional actors.                                                     
Ricky Nelson began a rock and roll music career in 1957. He recorded his debut         
single, the Fats Domino song "I'm Walkin'", seeking to impress a date who was an       
Elvis Presley fan Nelson's first song was a hit, reaching #4 on the charts.             
Soon, each episode of the Ozzie & Harriet television show ended with a musical         
performance by "Ricky". It was during the sitcom's run that Ozzie Nelson, either       
as a move to keep his son's fans tuned in each week, or as an affirmation of his       
reputed behind-the-scenes persona as a controlling personality, kept Ricky from         
appearing on other TV shows that arguably would have enhanced his public profile,       
American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show in particular. Ironically, Rick             
finally did appear on the Sullivan show in 1967, but his career was at that time       
in limbo. Rick also appeared on other TV shows (usually in acting roles). In           
1977, he guest-hosted on Saturday Night Live, where he proved to be a good sport       
in spoofing his TV sitcom image by appearing in a Twilight Zone send-up, where,         
always trying to go "home", he'd find himself among the characters from other           
1950s/early '60s-era sitcoms, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Make           
Room for Daddy.                                                                         
Despite the promotional aspects of his career, it is clear that Nelson knew and         
loved music, and was a creditable performer before he became a teen idol,               
largely due to his parents' musical background. In addition to guitar, he also         
played drums and the clarinet. (He showcased his drum skills in the same episode       
where he made his singing debut.) Unlike many teen idols of the time, Nelson           
showed his personal taste in working with strong musicians, including James             
Burton, Joe Maphis, The Jordanaires, and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. While Elvis       
may have served as the catalyst for Rick's musical career, his real inspiration         
came from none other than Carl Perkins.                                                 
One of Ricky Nelson's best-selling singles, "Hello Mary Lou" / "Travelin' Man"         
From 1957 to 1962, Nelson had thirty Top-40 hits, more than any other artist at         
the time except Elvis Presley (who had 53) and Pat Boone (who had 38). Many of         
Nelson's early records were double hits with both the A side and the B side             
hitting the Billboard charts. When Billboard introduced the Hot 100 chart on           
August 4, 1958, Nelson's single "Poor Little Fool" became the first song ever in       
the #1 position on that chart.                                                         
While Nelson preferred rockabilly and uptempo rock songs like "Hello Mary Lou",         
"It's Late", "Stood Up", and "Be-Bop Baby", his smooth, calm voice made him a           
natural to sing ballads. He had major success with "Travelin' Man", "Poor Little       
Fool", "Young World", "Lonesome Town", and "Teenage Idol", which clearly could         
have been about Nelson himself at the time. (It was Life magazine that reputedly       
coined the phrase "teen idol" in an article it did about Nelson in 1959).               
In addition to his recording career, Nelson also appeared in movies, including         
Rio Bravo with John Wayne and Dean Martin (1959), The Wackiest Ship In the Army         
(1960), and Love and Kisses (1965).                                                     
On May 8, 1961 (his 21st birthday), Nelson officially changed his recording name       
from "Ricky Nelson" to "Rick Nelson". However, not too long before his untimely         
death, Rick realized a dream of his, when he met his idol, Carl Perkins, who,           
while musing that they were the last of the "rockabilly breed", called Nelson "Ricky". 
As the story goes, Nelson felt somehow validated by Perkins calling him by the         
name he stopped using at age 21. He then contacted his manager, who was then           
instructed to restore the "y" to his name.                                             
In 1963, Nelson signed a 20-year contract with Decca Records, but he had no             
further major hits after 1964's "For You". In the mid-1960s, he began to move           
towards country music, becoming a pioneer in the country-rock genre. As a result,       
he was one of the early influences of the so-called "California Sound" (which           
would include singers like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and other bands like         
The Eagles). Yet Nelson himself did not reach the Top 40 again until 1970, when         
he recorded Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" with the Stone Canyon Band. This           
most likely included drummer Kevin Edwards, who still lives to tell his story           
today. In 1972, Nelson reached the Top 40 one last time with "Garden Party", a         
song he wrote in disgust after a Madison Square Garden audience booed him when         
he tried playing new songs instead of just his old hits from the 1950s and 1960s.       
"Garden Party" reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Adult       
Contemporary chart, and was certified as a gold single. (Coincidentally, "Garden       
Party" was a hit at the same time Elvis Presley was having his last Top-10             
single, "Burning Love", as was Chuck Berry with "My Ding-a-Ling". (Berry is             
among the musicians alluded to in the lyrics of "Garden Party".)                       
Nelson married Kristin Harmon in April 1963, in what Life referred to as "The           
Wedding of the Year". Harmon is the daughter of Football All-American University       
of Michigan football legend and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon and actress           
Elyse Knox, and is the older sister of movie and television star Mark Harmon,           
perhaps known best for the hit series NCIS.                                             
The couple had one daughter, Tracy (born October 25, 1963), twin sons Gunnar and       
Matthew (born September 20, 1967), and a third son, Sam Nelson (born August 29,         
After "Garden Party", Ricky Nelson never regained his career's momentum. By the         
late 1970s, his life was in shambles and he was heavily in debt. After a highly         
tumultuous marriage (the antithesis of what the public had seen on Ozzie and           
Harriet and in Love and Kisses), Kristin filed for divorce and took their four         
children. He wasn't making records and when he played live at all, it was in           
very small insignificant venues. Nelson began using drugs, especially marijuana         
and eventually cocaine.                                                                 
In 1985, Nelson joined a nostalgia rock tour of England. It was a major success,       
and it revived some interest in his work. He tried to duplicate that effect in         
the United States, and he began a tour of the South. While on that tour, on his         
way to a New Year's Eve concert in Dallas, Texas, he died in a plane crash in De       
Kalb, Texas. Nelson was buried in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in         
Los Angeles, California. The last song he sang on stage before his death was           
Buddy Holly's "Rave On." Holly had also perished in a plane crash.                     
Rumors that drug use among the passengers caused the crash frequently resurface,       
but the original NTSB investigation long ago stated that the crash was probably         
due to mechanical problems. The pilots attempted to land in a field after smoke         
filled the cabin. An examination indicated that a fire originated in the right         
hand side of the aft cabin area at or near the floor line. The passengers were         
killed when the aircraft struck obstacles during the forced landing; the pilots         
were able to escape through the cockpit windows and survived. The ignition and         
fuel sources of the fire could not be determined, although many believe that the       
most likely cause was a defective cabin heater. The pilot indicated that the           
crew tried to turn on the cabin heater repeatedly shortly before the fire               
occurred, but that it failed to respond. After the fire, the access panel to the       
heater compartment was found unlatched. The theory is supported by records that         
showed that DC-3s in general, and this aircraft in particular, had a previous           
history of problems with the cabin heaters.