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Kent Demaret January 20, It had been nearly a week since Eric Hilliard Nelson and six others had been killed in a fiery Texas plane crash, but the lingering unreality about his death—he who had hardly aged in life or memory—seemed only heightened by the setting for his tribute. Some remembered that Ricky Nelson had been there before: He was the kindest man you ever met.
The man had class. He was an artist. He was wise—and he loved ice cream. Years ago, he said, their late father, Ozzie, used to sing along with an operatic version of the prayer with his sons. Then the family left with a few close friends for a private burial service, leaving the onlookers talking about Ricky.
What had he been up to since the waning of his fame? Where had all those years gone, anyway?
It was around dusk on Saturday, Dec. Ricky Nelson and a classic DC-3 in sleepy old Guntersville on the same day! On impulse the year-old schoolteacher offered Nelson a glimpse of Southern gracious-ness. He looked so young. He was polite, too. I got my camera, and he posed for pictures with his arms around my shoulders. They had been to Orlando and were working their way back toward the West Coast.
I heard some of the band members saying that [the plane] was a whole lot better than the bus they used to tour in. It was a beautiful old, customized plane. Nelson and his Stone Canyon Band had stopped off in Guntersville pop. That night they played two sets—mostly oldies—and P. The fire department gave Upton a ticket for overcrowding, and the owner had to turn folks away at the door. Among the crowd that did get in were Lock and Harris, who said that when the band took the stage in front of a raw brick wall, the audience, mostly fans age 35 to 50, screamed like teenagers.
On Monday afternoon the couple visited the Uptons and their four children. Upton says Blair was rather quiet and retiring, like Nelson, who told his friend only that she had been a fan whom he met at one of his shows.
Rikki (2) - Seven Days A Week (Vinyl) at Discogs
Monday night, when the band arrived at P. Nelson closed the show with Rave On, the song by Buddy Holly, the early rock hero who died at 22 in a plane crash.
Responding to calls for more, Ricky walked out on stage twice to take a bow. A dead boa constrictor was curled up inside the faulty amp.
Rick Nelson 1940-1985 | luokai.info
Nelson said the seven-foot snake belonged to one of his kids and must have slithered into the amplifier for warmth over the Christmas holidays at home.
Ricky and the band whiled away the time playing Space Invaders, petting an airport cat named Garfield and eating cheeseburgers and onion rings. Despite the fact that at least one band member had told friends he was afraid of the plane, none of the Stone Canyon players seemed worried during the long wait. Finally, at 2 p.
Three hours later, near the Texas border, something happened. Rank radioed the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that there was smoke in the cockpit and asked for emergency landing fields. He then apparently tried to land on a highway but veered away because of vehicular traffic. He put the plane down in a cow pasture near De Kalb, Texas at about 5: Federal investigators later said the plane made a good emergency landing and full stop, but the on-board fire by that time was intense enough to melt aluminum.
Rank, 34, and co-pilot Kenneth Ferguson, 40, were able to escape, apparently through a cockpit emergency hatch, though they suffered severe burns and smoke inhalation. The plane burned for four hours. The remains of the seven passengers were found huddled near the cockpit door. A week after the accident, the pilots were still too injured to talk. By that time, the investigation of the crash had focused on a broken fuel line that fed the powerful cabin heater.
Authorities said a full report on the cause of the crash might take six months. A few hours after the crash, a phone rang in the L. She answered the phone, then screamed and dropped it. Ricky and his band were dead. In a high school girlfriend visited Ricky and swooned when an Elvis Presley song played on the radio. In April the band took the unusual step of playing the song on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
LIFE magazine put him on its cover in and coined a new phrase to describe him: But he was still making good money; in canny Ozzie had his son sign a year contract with Decca Records. Ricky took the change in musical style in good grace, and he never abandoned his work. To a greater degree than any other early rocker, his perseverance turned into durable survival.
Nelson got little credit for that. He would, in fact, have only one more big hit, a triumph salvaged from adversity. At a Madison Square Garden appearance in , Rick was booed unmercifully when he tried to sing new songs instead of his oldies. His manager, Greg McDonald, claims the boos were directed at a fight on the balcony.
He played state fairs, the clubs, sometimes nights a year. The touring took a toll on his wife and family. In he had married artist Kristin Harmon, then 17, the daughter of football great Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox. Never one for the Hollywood party circuit, Nelson at home was almost reclusive; the family had long valued privacy. In , after 14 years of marriage, he and his wife separated. The five-year battle that ensued was traumatic and bitter and, after a brief reconciliation, ended in divorce.
Kristin won custody of the kids, and Rick moved into a Hollywood Hills estate once owned by Errol Flynn. The divorce hurt him a lot.
This was the year he had just gone back to work. A native of New Jersey and a onetime animal trainer, Helen became a model and aspiring actress; she met Rick after a performance at L. Helen reportedly got along well with his children, including the twins, who had moved in with their dad when they turned 18 last September.
The party went well, and it ended with a Nelson family tradition—a running, whooping entrance by his children hurling whipped cream pies at the birthday boy—well, man. Most of those who had attended the party were at his funeral last week. He was my best friend, and I will miss him terribly.