The Major Health Change Desi Arnaz Made In The Last Year Of His Life

Desi Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III on March 2, 1917, in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, before moving to Miami with his family in 1933 (per Biography). He eventually earned a career in music, moving to New York for a time to play with Spanish musician and bandleader Xavier Cugat, only to move back to Miami to start his own band, with whom he introduced American audiences to the "conga line." However, New York City was calling his name again, so he went back and was cast in the Broadway musical "Too Many Girls" in 1939, appearing as well in the film version, which is how he met Lucille Ball.

It was with Ball that he would achieve his biggest claim to fame, in the TV series "I Love Lucy," which premiered in 1951 (per IMDb) and was an immediate hit. The series lasted for six seasons, and broke new ground in terms of the type of subjects that could be portrayed on American television. Arnaz and Ball captured audiences with their unique chemistry and zany humor. That they were married in real life made their performances all the more interesting.

As stated in Biography, unlike on TV, the couple got divorced in 1960, and the two popular entertainers went their separate ways. Lucy worked in front of and behind the cameras. Arnaz, too, also worked on other television shows, albeit behind the scenes.

The health change he made

Desi Arnaz was a heavy drinker, something that worried his family and contributed to the failure of his marriage. Arnaz and Lucille Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, told People that it was her younger brother, Desi Jr., who managed to convince their father to get sober. Their father "resisted going into AA or any program for a long, long time ... But he finally did after his wife Edy died. He was just so upset that my brother convinced him, I think, 'Come on, Dad. You can do this.' And he did it. He stopped drinking."

According to People, Lucie accompanied her father to Alcoholics Anonymous, stating that it was one of the proudest moments in her life when she heard him admit that he was an alcoholic. She said, "It was like, 'Okay, I don't care what you do after this. That was the best thing you've ever done.' Because that was hard for him. It's hard for everybody, but for him especially it was really hard." While Arnaz was able to kick his dangerous substance abuse, he soon had other health problems to deal with.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Later days and death

Desi Arnaz had another unhealthy behavior: smoking tobacco. Only a year after getting sober, Arnaz tragically passed away December 2, 1986 from lung cancer, with Charles Campbell, his doctor, telling the Los Angeles Times that "It was from smoking those Cuban cigars; that's the truth." He had suffered several health problems in the last decades of his life, most notably bouts with diverticulitis, a condition of the digestive tract (per Mayo Clinic), for which he had several surgeries.

When speaking to ABC after her father's death, Lucie Arnaz said, "I would like him to be remembered as the man who was responsible for Lucy. The 'I' in 'I Love Lucy.' And that he loved all of you very much." As stated in the Los Angeles Times, Arnaz's ex-wife Lucille Ball confirmed that, even though they had divorced in 1960, they were still on good terms, saying that their "relationship had remained very close, very amiable, over the years, and now I'm grateful to God that Desi's suffering is over."