‘Deadliest Catch’: Remembering Captain Phil Harris, Who Died Seven Years Ago

Deadliest Catch fans today are remembering Captain Phil Harris, who died seven years ago.

The captain suffered a stroke aboard his beloved boat, the F/V Cornelia Marie while in harbor in St. Paul Island, Alaska. Despite collapsing, Phil Harris insisted that everything be put on camera. He wanted people to know the truth of the life of a ship’s captain.

He was put into a medically induced coma and then he woke up. At first he was better, and everyone considered this a miracle. The next day he told a visiting friend that he felt considerably worse and later that day. He died of a pulmonary embolism. He was gone at the age of 53.

Living the life of a captain was tough and the reason that so many people loved to see Captain Phil on the Deadliest Catch is that he was able to be philosophical, as well as silly. Ornery and hysterical. Just like the unpredictable waves of the Bering Sea, he showed all sides of his personality and his love of fishing, and most of all, the love he had for his two sons, Josh and Jake.

Phil loved to talk about “crab farts” and when he didn’t want to talk, he would blast the music of his favorite band, INXS, to avoiding having to say anything.

Entertainment Weekly had spoken to the captain in 2007, three years before his death. They asked how he got into fishing in the first place.

“I bulls—ted my way on a boat, and I told them I’d work for nothing for however long it took to be able to do this. I got on and I worked for two, three months for nothing and then a guy got hurt and I turned around and made like $130,000 and life was good. I was 17.”

What did he do with all of that money at such a young age?

“You want the honest answer? I bought a car, I bought a house, and I bought a couple of hookers.”

Eventually, Harris wanted to create his own home life and he married and had two children, Josh and Jake Harris. Because the life of a crab fisherman meant he was gone months at a time, this put a strain on his marriage and they eventually divorced.

When Deadliest Catch was being filmed, Phil was able to work with his two sons and try to teach them the correct ways to fish. There is no doubt that the tough-talking, yet soft-hearted captain was a bit lax on his sons. One episode showed Phil dealing with huge expensive repairs. While he was trying to deal with that drama, his sons came on the boat, late, after a crazy shopping spree, buying up cool looking clothes for work.

After giving his two sons some choice words, Captain Phil spoke right to the camera and told the audience that when he was their age, he only had one set of gear and that was it. His kids are obviously from a generation where they didn’t want to wait and demanded the best, while Phil worked for free just to get the opportunity to get on a boat.

It was that last season, weeks before he died, where there was the most drama in his own family. He and Captain Sig of the F/V Northwestern traded Jakes. Jake Anderson got to work with Captain Phil and learn a lot, while Jake Harris worked with Captain Sig and realized how good he had it on his dad’s boat.

Not long after Jake Harris returned, Captain Phil discovered that his youngest son had a serious drug problem and demanded that Jake go to rehab. Phil had confessed to having his own addictions and had recovered, and Jake could too. The life on a crab boat is tough and there are some who find themselves addicted due to recreational use and others who started out with pain issues and became addicted that way. There was both pain and fear in Phil’s voice. He obviously did not want to see his son go through this.

What was absolutely heartbreaking was that not long after that incident, Phil had the stroke that eventually killed him.

Captain Phil knew that be the captain of a crabbing boat was a dangerous occupation and the longer you did it, the worse your odds were that you could get out. Whether health issues or a boating catastrophe, he knew a lot of people that were gone and knew that his number would be up soon.

“The longer you do this, the more chances your number’s gonna come up. Most of the guys I started with have either died or got hurt or got out of it.”

In 2007 he told EW that he did have a target date for retiring.

“Maybe four, five years.”

Less than three years later, on February 9, 2010, Captain Phil Harris passed away.

What are your favorite memories of Captain Phil from Deadliest Catch? Have you kept up with the F/V Cornelia Marie and Captain Josh Harris at the helm?

[Featured Image by Blair Bunting/Discovery Channel/Getty Images]