The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet entertained viewers and listeners for well over a decade (1952 – 66). The show brought a wholesome slice of American family life to TV screens across the nation. Until recently, it was the longest-running live-action sitcom of all time, only topped by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in 2020.
What happened once production shut down? Were things as perfect as they seemed on the show? Of course not… the Nelsons had their good times and bad, just like anyone else.
But only a precious few achieve fame and become American icons. Read on to find out about Ozzie and the gang’s post-sitcom lives.
The head of the clan, Ozzie was a band leader-turned-radio/TV star. Once the Adventures concluded, he spent his days playing volleyball and writing his autobiography, according to Day at Night (1974).
Leaving the bright lights of show business behind proved to be a challenge. The sitcom Ozzie’s Girls was a brief return to the small screen. He and Harriet were back, this time looking after students played by Brenda Sykes and Susan Sennett. One of the young women was neat and tidy, the other a mess.
This Odd Couple vibe didn’t fly with audiences and the series lasted just one season. Not long after, Ozzie passed away from liver cancer in 1975, at the age of 69.
Ozzie was seen by some as a bastion of the classic US family. Though comments about the younger generation of the 1970s on Day at Night reveal a more nuanced approach.
He didn’t subscribe to so-called “hippie syndrome”. However, Ozzie felt the movement helped because America was “so oriented toward a business type of success that we began to realize that maybe there is more to life”.
Harriet continued her TV career, appearing in shows such as Night Gallery, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Happy Days.
A role in The Father Dowling Mysteries – alongside granddaughter Tracy Nelson (Sister Steve) – became her last onscreen appearance in 1989.
Ozzie’s death naturally hit her hard and Harriet reportedly withdrew from public life. In 1994, she passed away from congestive heart failure and emphysema at age 85.
Rick was the breakout star of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. His 1961 version of “Hello Mary-Lou” (by Gene Pitney) entered the Top 10 worldwide as the show was still on the air.
Rick’s – or Ricky’s – music took him beyond Sitcom Land and, eventually, into the rock ‘n roll scene. The year 1972 saw him release “Garden Party” with the Stone Canyon Band. The track was famously inspired by an incident at a concert held at Madison Square Garden.
Nelson wanted to embrace rock ‘n roll. The crowd, apparently expecting the old clean-cut Rick, booed him off.
He married artist Kristin Harmon (sister of NCIS star Mark Harmon) in 1963. The turbulent union was over 12 years later.
Rick sadly died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985, aged 45. Brain Sharper refers to reports from the Civil Aeronautics Board and others. They “confirmed that the cause of the crash was the onboard heater short-circuiting and catching fire.”
A painful custody battle then ensued between Kristin and Mark. The latter cited substance abuse as the reason behind his legal move to take care of young Sam. The case was dropped and the parties went into family therapy. Kristin died in 2018.
Other sons Matthew and Gunnar went on to form their own successful band, Nelson. In 2017 they promoted the “Ricky Nelson Remembered” show for the Chicago Tribune. “Ricky Nelson was the real deal” said Gunnar. “Ricky Nelson was a great musician. He was a rocker who happened to be a good actor”.
Nelson – as in the group – hit the top spot with “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.” They also made the record books… three generations of the family had now made it to no.1, a feat recorded by Guinness. Ozzie would surely be proud.
Ozzie, Harriet, and Rick stayed in the spotlight. David, on the other hand, ventured behind the camera as a director and producer. Amongst his TV credits are Ozzie’s Girls.
An acclaimed acting role was that of trapeze artist Tommy Gordon in The Big Circus (1959). Written and produced by Irwin Allen (The Towering Inferno et al), the film featured Red Buttons, Vincent Price, and Peter Lorre.
David passed away in 2011 from colon cancer. He was 74. With his death, the last of the legendary sitcom family had been laid to rest.
In a time before Kardashians, the Nelsons welcomed cameras into their own home for a fun, if fictional, look at family life. Gone but not forgotten, Ozzie, Harriet, Rick, and David live again, whenever reruns are shown.