For many years, Ricky Nelson was the teen pop star idolized by his admirers, and he was one of the most televised performers of his time.
While many are aware of the enigmatic circumstances surrounding his passing, few are aware of how a split-second decision resulted in the survival of his two young boys.
American singer, musician, and actor Ricky Nelson (1940 – 1985) poses circa 1957. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
On May 8, 1940, Eric Hilliard Nelson was born in Teaneck, New Jersey. The hit sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” which his parents, Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard Nelson, created, made his parents famous.
A record for comedy longevity, The Nelsons ran for sixteen years. At around 8 and 10, Ricky and his older brother David joined the show’s cast.
Ricky attended Gardner Street Public School, eventually making it to Hollywood High School. He had the propensity to dislike schooling, which strained his relationship with his father, who wanted Ricky to attend college.
He was already earning more money than most established adults by the time he started to get close to the right age to attend college. He didn’t need a college education because he had already made about $100,000 annually.
Ricky appeared in the “Ricky, the Drummer” episode of his family’s show when he was 17. He recorded and published “I’m Walking,” a song he performed on that episode, as his debut single. On Billboard’s Best Sellers list, it rose fast to number 4.
His popularity soared, enabling him to frequently make music debuts on his parents’ show before single releases. “Garden Party,” “It’s Late,” “Fools Rush In,” “For You,” “Poor Little Fool,” and “Traveling Man” were a few of the well-known successes.
Rickey started dating Kristin Harmon in 1961. Kristin, who was also raised in Hollywood, came from a similar background. The Nelsons and her family were also good friends.
They got hitched in April of 1963. Sam Hilliard Nelson, the twins Matthew Gray and Gunnar Eric Nelson, and their daughter, the actress Tracy Kristine Nelson, were their four children.
Ricky’s popularity grew as he routinely released Top 40 hits during the 1960s. He went on numerous tours over the years due to his well-liked music, which was part of the expanding rock n’ roll genre.
Unfortunately, he tragically and mysteriously passed away during one of these tours.
Ricky detested flying despite frequently needing to travel by plane for promotions and tours. He reportedly even went to psychotherapy sessions to feel better on airplanes to continue his career and see his admirers.
Nelson was planning to travel to Dallas with his kids Matthew and Gunnar for Ricky’s New Year’s performance in Dallas.
Gunnar remarked that we were scheduled to be on the plane on that excursion. Just before we were scheduled to fly with our father to the Dallas New Year’s event, we received a call from him.
A few days before they were supposed to go together, Ricky called his sons to tell them they wouldn’t be flying to Dallas due to some bad feeling or premonition.
A few days before the trip, there were some reports of engine issues on the flight that Ricky was supposed to board.
Gunnar Nelson, Rick Nelson, Tracy Nelson, Kristin Nelson, and Matthew Nelson pose for a portrait in 1968 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Without his two sons, Ricky boarded the DC-3 in Alabama, and as the aircraft approached its destination, the cabin began to fill with smoke. Ricky and the other passengers on board tragically perished in the fire, but the pilot was able to land the aircraft in Texas safely.
Even after thirty years, the cause of the plane fire is still unknown. Regarding the cause, rumors abounded, including some lewd ones about Ricky doing cocaine with his former lover Helen Blaine.
David, Ricky’s brother, passionately refutes this theory by saying that Ricky has never used cocaine. Later, Greg McDonald, Ricky’s manager, later confirmed that Ricky and Helen were also dozing off in the cabin when the fire began.
Tracy Nelson, Ricky’s daughter, later admitted to Larry King that a mechanical malfunction caused the tragedy.
Tracy revealed that the aircraft, also known as the “Flying Bus” because of its slow speed, had a history of issues with its gasoline heater, which might have easily resulted in an unintentional fire.
Thirty years later, the fire’s origin is still unknown, but it is evident that Ricky Nelson’s foresight helped to avert a worse family tragedy.
Ricky’s twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar, went on to co-star in great musical careers in honor of their late father. It’s a continuing work of love, an open letter to our father, who served as our closest friend, according to Matthew.
Ricky Nelson Remembered starring his twin sons Gunnar Nelson and Matthew Nelson, performed at City Winery Nashville on July 30, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee / Getty Images.
Ricky, have peace! Comment below with your thoughts on his life-saving insight.
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