David Nelson, the last surviving member of the family of Ozzie and Harriet, died yesterday in Century City, California of complications from colon cancer. He was 74 years old.
Born David Oswald Nelson in New York City on October 24, 1936, Dave was the eldest of Ozzie and Harriet’s two sons. His younger sibling, Ricky, became a popular singer and a teen idol. In fact, Rick was one the biggest stars of the early rock and roll era. David, on the other hand, was quieter and less recognized. He directed about a dozen episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the 1960s and went on to spend several decades directing TV commercials and occasional television series and movies.
David and his brother began accompanying their parents on radio in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1949. The show moved to television in October of 1952 and became a fixture on the tube for 14 years. It was so influential that when an episode aired on December 11, 1957 in which Ozzie went searching for tutti-frutti ice cream, food stores reported a run on the flavour the next day.
To watch a video of the tutti-frutti episode, click on the link below.
The Nelson boys literally grew up in front of a television audience. Ricky was transformed from an 11-year-old with a crew cut to a real-life teenage idol and then a 25-year-old husband. The Nelson brothers’ real-life wives become their television wives. David’s first wife, actress June Blair, appeared on the show from 1961 until the end of the series in 1966. Rick’s wife, Kristin Harmon (the daughter of football star, Tom Harmon and the sister of actor Mark Harmon) also joined the cast. She first appeared in the October 9, 1963 episode “Rick’s Wedding Ring”.
Kris filed for divorce from Rick Nelson in October of 1977. The couple resolved their differences, but the reconciliation was only temporary. Kris again filed for divorce in 1980. Her breakup with Rick was nasty and acrimonious. Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash on December 31, 1985 at the age of 45. The day after Christmas, he and his band had begun a three-stop tour of the Southern U.S. and they were headed for a New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Dallas Texas. Their plane crashed northeast of Dallas killing seven people including Rick and his fiancee, Helen Blair.
Ozzie Nelson died of liver cancer on June 3, 1975 at the age of 69. His wife Harriet died of congestive heart failure at Laguna, Beach, California on October 2, 1994. She was 85 years old. David and June divorced in 1975. That same year, David married Yvonne O’Connor Huston and adopted her three children, including actress Terri Nelson. David and Yvonne remained together until his death.
It must have been difficult to be a member of television’s ideal family. In a 1971 Esquire article entitled “The Happy, Happy, Happy Nelsons”, David Nelson remarked that “It’s an awfully big load to carry, to be everyone’s fantasy family.”