The Tragic Death Of Phil Harris From The Deadliest Catch

It might seem bizarre to imagine that someone's fancy crab dinner cost human lives, but for fans of the Discovery Channel's reality series "Deadliest Catch," such news will come as no surprise. The 19-season-long show — focusing on the lives and jobs of crab fishermen in Alaska — has featured the deaths of half-a-dozen cast members over the years. The first such tragedy occurred in 2010 during Season 6, when "Deadliest Catch" star Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie suffered a stroke that happened off-camera, per Pop Matters. As The U.S. Sun reports, he died at the age of 53 after 11 days in the hospital. 

Harris' stroke kicked off a run of episodes that focused on his health and the reactions of those who knew him, the first of which garnered 5.4 million views, per The New York Times. The U.S. Sun says Harris was placed in an induced coma and later woke up following surgery. Sometime after this, however, he died from an intracranial hemorrhage, per MSN. The July 13th episode "Redemption Day" involved Harris during his final days. The subsequent episode, Valhalla, dealt with the aftermath of his death. These episodes were followed up with an hour-long tribute episode titled "Captain Phil Harris Remembered." Clarke Bunting, president and general manager of Discovery, said to The New York Times, "Most of the fans know what the unfortunate ending is. I think this is a collective opportunity for people to express their condolences."

The days before the end

While fans of Deadliest Catch could have never foreseen that Phil Harris would suffer a stroke and die while Season 6 of the show was filming, People reported that Harris suffered from poor health and lifestyle choices for years. He wore his body down over time through smoking, high-calorie meals, pots of coffee, cases of Red Bull, and more. He suffered a pulmonary embolism in 2008 — a life-threatening blood clot in the lung. From that point on, "he seemed like he'd just gotten tireder and tireder," according to Todd Stanley, a "Deadliest Catch" producer and camera operator who worked with Harris for years. On top of all this, Josh Harris also said that his father had "four crushed disks" — herniated discs, by the medical name — that left Harris in severe pain not just in general, but on his final trip out at sea.

As People reported, it was Cornelia Marie engineer Steve Ward who found Captain Harris paralyzed on the floor of his cabin. Josh Harris said that not only was the left side of his father's face paralyzed, but so were his arms. And yet, as Pop Matters wrote, even in this debilitated condition Captain Harris told the "Deadliest Catch" production crew to continue filming. The Discovery Channel filmed everything as it was happening, and built the rest of Season 6 around Harris' failing condition. He was transported to a hospital in Anchorage, underwent surgery, and seemed to take a turn for the better, but he ultimately died.   

A generational legacy

As "Deadliest Catch" footage on YouTube shows, Phil Harris and his elder son Josh butted heads, challenged each other for dominance, and played pranks on each other. But when push came to shove, the two came together in the end. In a 2010 People article, Josh Harris describes being grateful for the time that he and his father had while his father was in the hospital in Anchorage, saying, "We had nine days total that we were there to enjoy a few moments with him. We had our closest people there and it was awesome." On that same note, Captain Harris' closest friend Dan Mittman spoke positively about the upturn that Harris displayed following his surgery, no matter that he ultimately died. Mittman said, "I think that miraculous recovery ... was so that he could say the things that he had to say to the people he had to say them to."

People describes how Harris more or less passed the professional baton to his children. His son Josh said, "My life goal was to show him I could be a man, you know, and I could fish, and I did the best job that I could, and he recognized that as being a good job and gave me kudos." Harris' younger son Jake said, "I'm going to be looking at that [captain's] chair in a different way ... I just didn't expect this to happen so soon. That's definitely something where I would take over and take the responsibility."