On February 9th, 2010 the world lost a man who showed great bravery in his final hours of life. He did not rub elbows with kings and people in high places. He did not appear on a list of one of the world’s most important people, nor was he on any list of millionaires in the world. Contrary to his title of “Captain” he was not in the military when he died. Yet the bravery of Captain Phil Harris, crab fisherman on the Bering Sea, lives on in the minds of his family, crew, film crew and the viewers of a reality show, “Deadliest Catch.”
Captain Harris was captain for more than 20 years of a fishing vessel named Cornelia Marie. He was divorced and had two sons, Josh and Jake who went to work with him on the ship when they were old enough to learn to be crab fishermen. Working on a crabber is grueling, dangerous work. That’s why the show earned the name it carries.
The theme song for “Deadliest Catch” by Bon Jovi
A couple days ago, on my Facebook feed I saw a post asking people to vote for their favorite reality show performer between Captain Harris and Gordon Ramsay, chef on “Master Chef.” I always liked Phil Harris for his down-to-earth, diamond-in-the-rough ways. He was blunt in his way of speaking, and said things exactly as he meant them. With Phil Harris, what you saw was what you got. There were no “airs” about him. He loved fishing and he loved driving anything that would go fast, particularly motorcycles. The manner of his passing and the courage he showed in his final hours not only brought me to tears, but increased my admiration for him. I voted on the Facebook poll and commented the following:
“Captain Phil Harris was the greatest TV personality of all time. How many other TV reality show stars have you seen, as they are dying, still worrying about their sons welfare? None. That’s why he’s the greatest, hands down!”
The comment has so far gathered 112 “likes” overnight. I believe I know why; it raised attention because many other people feel the same. I have nothing against the talented, but obnoxious Mr. Ramsay as I’m sure his show is entertaining. But for me, the bravery shown by Phil Harris as he knew he was living his last hours, worrying about his sons welfare and how they would get along without him was one of the most heart-rending things I’ve ever seen. It was real, it was no act, he actually died. The filming was done hours before he died, but the episode was not shown until July 20, 2010, giving his family and friends and crew of “Deadliest Catch,” the chance to mourn in privacy.
“It Needs An Ending”
The part of this you may not know is that the night before Captain Harris passed away, he wrote on a napkin to the cameramen who had followed him but were going to stop filming, “You’ve got to finish the story. It needs an ending.” He knew that viewers would want to know what had happened to him. That to me, takes great courage and love for people, to consider them when you’re dying. He could have let it just be announced on the show after he was gone, but he knew that wouldn’t help the show’s viewers to accept his passing. He cared about his kids, and the feelings of his crew. But to be concerned about the feelings of viewers of the show, people for the most part he had never met, was an act unknown in the annals of television history.
His health problems began in 2008, when he was thrown from his bunk during a storm. He thought he had broken his ribs, and coughed up blood for some time until his sons and crew convinced him to seek medical help. The film crew was enlisted to follow his condition. After examination showed he had suffered a pulmonary embolism, which in itself is often fatal, he was given treatment and pulled through, but was unable to fish for almost a year. He managed to return for the opilio crab season in 2009. He was a chain smoker, which was shown on the series, and that probably further contributed to his health woes.
Captain Harris suffered a massive stroke in January of 2010 while offloading crab at St. Paul Island, Alaska. He was airlifted to Anchorage for surgery and placed in an induced coma to reduce the swelling in his brain. Waking from the coma, he was squeezing hands, talking and showing other signs of improvement, but an intracranial hemorrhage finally took his life. Many people believe he was given those last few days to speak to his boys of his concern for them. It was Season 6 of “Deadliest Catch.” Captain Harris was cremated, and half his ashes buried in an ornate Harley Davidson motorcycle gas tank, as a tip of the hat to his love for speed, with the remains of his mother. The rest of his ashes were scattered at sea where he loved to be.
His sons issued a press statement as follows:
“It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our Dad — Captain Phil Harris. Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end. For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers.”
If you’d like to know more about Captain Phil Harris, the Cornelia Marie and crab fishing on the Bering Sea, here’s some things you might like. The first two are books; one by Josh and Jake about their Dad, the other by author Larry Erickson writing about the Captains, and featuring stories told by Captain Harris: