Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

A Death in the Family

As a deep-sea fisherman, Phil Harris had one of the world's most dangerous professions — they don't call the show Deadliest Catch for nothing. But in the end, it wasn't the frigid waters of the Bering Sea that killed him. Harris, who helmed the crab-fishing vessel Cornelia Marie and, along with his sons Josh and Jake, appeared on the hit Discovery Channel reality series, suffered a massive stroke Jan. 29 while unloading his ship and died almost two weeks later at age 53.

It was Phil himself who wanted his final days documented in the series. "Keep filming," he wrote from his hospital bed. "There has to be an end to this story." It was the first time a death was portrayed on reality television, leaving the producers grappling with how much to show. They opted not to show any scenes from the hospital after the right side of Harris' skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain, but they did show the touching goodbye between him and his son Josh. In his final moments onscreen, Harris is seen looking out a window at the Alaskan land he loved. The episode garnered a record-setting 8.5 million viewers.