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Rick Nelson Killed in Plane Crash : Singer Became Teen-Age Idol on 'Ozzie and Harriet' Show

January 01, 1986|JACK JONES | Times Staff Writer

Rick Nelson, who grew up in millions of American living rooms on his parents' "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" television show and then became a teen-age rock 'n' roll idol, was killed with six others Tuesday in the crash of a plane carrying his band to a New Year's Eve concert in Dallas.

Only the pilot and co-pilot survived as the private DC-3 went down in woods just short of an airport runway near the rural community of De Kalb, Tex., in the extreme northeast corner of the state.

Plane Caught Fire

Nelson, 45, and his band had appeared Monday night in Guntersville, Ala. They were headed for Dallas to play at the new Park Suite Hotel when the twin-engine plane caught fire and crashed about 5:30 p.m.

A helicopter pilot in the area reported hearing the DC-3 pilot radioing just before the crash that his aircraft was on fire. The helicopter pilot tried to direct the plane to an airport, but it appeared to be trying to land on a road. It struck the trees.

"There was fire everywhere," a witness to the crash said.

The famed son of the late bandleader-actor Ozzie Nelson and one-time band singer-actress Harriet Hilliard, "was not among the survivors," said Ronnie Fincher, a Department of Public Safety trooper in Texarkana.

Fincher identified the others killed as Nelson's fiancee, Helen Blair, 27, of Los Angeles; band members Bobby Neal, 38; Patrick Woodward, 35; Rick Intveld, 22, and Andy Chapin, 20, and soundman Clark Russell, 35.

Pilots Badly Burned

The two survivors, co-pilot Kenneth Ferguson, 40, and pilot Brad Rank, 34, were taken to St. Michael Hospital in nearby Texarkana, Ark., where they were reported in critical condition with burns over the upper parts of their bodies.

Nelson, who began playing himself on radio at age 8 and on the television show when he was 11, endeared himself to a generation of television viewers with his boyish grin, wisecracks and his frequent declaration, "I don't mess around, boy." He and his older brother, David, were fixtures on the show until it went off the air in 1966.

By then, he had become adored by countless teen-agers as a rock singer. By the time he was 22, he had sold 35 million records and had had 17 top-10 hits. Although his singing career began to slide when the "Ozzie and Harriet" series ended, he made something of a comeback after forming a country-rock group, Stone Canyon Band, in 1969.

He had another big record in 1972, "Garden Party," which he wrote after he and his band were booed at a 1971 rock and roll revival in Madison Square Garden.

'It Comes From Your Soul'

In a 1974 interview, he reflected on his ability to draw on that sort of unhappy experience in his songwriting. "When you sing rock and roll, or country," he said, "it comes from your soul, and the audience can feel the truth. The honesty is important . . . . A performer opens himself up to criticism and rejection. That's where you have to be strong."

Nelson, the one-time wisecracking kid, had become a man of few words, rarely appearing very enthusiastic or outspoken and remaining relatively subdued in a world of flash.

The singer was born Eric Hilliard Nelson in Teaneck, N. J., on May 8, 1940, and was graduated from Hollywood High School.

He did not begin singing on his parents' television show until 1957, when he was 17. Contrary to stories that he had asked his father to let him sing, the younger Nelson told an interviewer several years ago that it was Ozzie himself who suggested it.

Ricky Nelson said he did not think of singing until a girlfriend told him how wild she was about Elvis Presley. He said that he soon found a couple of songs ("A Teen-ager's Romance" and a Fats Domino hit, "I'm Walkin' "), formed a band and rented a studio to make a record.

A week after he performed "I'm Walkin' " on the show, his record had sold a million copies. He was the first to become a rock idol through television.

Nelson went on to become one of the biggest rock stars in the business, with his songs featured in "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes. His big hits included "Be-Bop Baby," "Stood Up," "I Got a Feelin' " and "Lonesome Town." As of two years ago, he was seventh on the list of all-time record sellers.

Hurt by British Invasion

But his score on that list was largely amassed before the so-called British invasion, when the Beatles and other groups caught the frantic interest of American teen-agers. Before waning in the early 1960s, he had several other hits, including "Poor Little Fool," "Just a Little Too Much," "Travelin' Man," "Hello, Mary Lou" and "Believe What You Say."

Although he had many records on the charts, he could not turn up another million seller. In the mid-60s, with albums like "Country Fever" and "Bright Lights and Country Music," he started stirring country music in with the rock. Also, he dropped the "y" from his name and began calling himself Rick.

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