The loss of the popular Phil Harris, skipper of the Cornelia Marie, remains a towering tragedy in “Deadliest Catch” history. Harris was a regular cast member from the second to the sixth season of “Deadliest Catch,” and a central figure during the show’s early years.
Harris’ death was a very public affair, which amped up the tragic nature of the ordeal. He suffered a stroke while aboard the Cornelia Marie — and in full view of The Discovery Chanel’s cameras, which kept filming as he was airlifted to a hospital. Crew members followed Harris through his hospitalization. He showed some initial improvement, but eventually died of a pulmonary embolism on February 9, 2010 per The New York Times. He was only 53 years old.
Harris’ son Josh, also a “Deadliest Catch” cast member, firmly told reporters that his father was clear about his wishes when it came to the footage he would leave behind. “He couldn’t talk at the time, but he wrote us a note,” Josh later told The Los Angeles Times. Thus, the show would carry on — and Harris’ death would be a part of it. Much of Season 6 of “Deadliest Catch” documents Harris’ stroke and death in a painstaking way, and Season 7 opens with footage of his memorial service.
Fan response to this decision was massive. Per a Discovery Channel executive quoted by The Los Angeles Times, viewers “nearly melted [the] server” housing the official “Deadliest Catch” website and message board as they flocked together to mourn Harris in the spring of 2010. A fitting send-off to a man who remains one of the most beloved figures in the show’s history.