The family of Capt. Phil Harris braces for the end of the 'Deadliest Catch' season [Updated]
When Josh and Jake Harris were faced with the biggest loss of their lives, they couldn't just sink into their grief. Their father, Capt. Phil Harris, had never lost sight of the responsibility he felt toward the viewers of "Deadliest Catch," and now neither could they.
"In our profession, death is not an uncommon thing," said Josh Harris during a telephone interview. "That's why the show was created the way it was. In the beginning, it was about death and carnage, and then it evolved into a story about our lives, following the families and seeing how they deal with their problems. This is what we plan for — keep filming if something happens. It's a weird concept, but Jake and I talked about it and we continued what we signed up to do. I'm nervous and scared to relive this again. It's hard enough going through it the first time."
For six seasons, Capt. Harris had let the cameras film his life's purpose, his commanding of the Cornelia Marie and his sometimes volatile relationship with his two sons. With only three episodes left to produce when he suffered a stroke Jan. 29, Harris wasn't about to let his medical problems get in the way of the story. Unable to speak after part of his skull had been surgically removed, Harris scribbled on a note pad, "Keep filming. There has to be an end to the story."
The end was not what anyone wanted or expected. Even though Harris' health seemed to be improving, he died Feb. 9 as a result of a second pulmonary embolism. (He had survived one two years prior.) But his sons did as he had asked — they let the cameras keep rolling. Beginning with Tuesday night's episode, the rest of the season will cover Capt. Harris' stroke, hospitalization and death. (A special tribute episode will air July 20 and the season finale will air on July 27.)
"It was my dad's want and will to have all this filmed and aired," Josh Harris said. "The show is a story about our lives. And nine or 10 months out of the year, we're up north in Alaska on a boat together, and it's just what we've done. My dad couldn't speak so he wrote on a piece of paper and those were his wishes and he wanted the story to be told. It's going to be really hard because I don't remember any of the last two days. I blocked it out. So I know it's going to be extremely hard to go back and watch this, but at the same time I'll get to see what I said to my dad, the last little bit."
Original Productions, which produces the show, treated the Harris family with respect and sensitivity, Josh Harris said.
"They wanted to get the initial reaction between us and that was the hard part — the first time we talked with my dad when he came out of the induced coma — and all that stuff," Josh Harris said. "They wanted initial reactions and then they just let us do our thing and hung back. They let us be who we wanted to be and let us talk about what we wanted to talk about and didn't bother us. They were real sensitive about the whole situation but still documented everything. They've done as tasteful a job as you can possibly do in a situation like this. It's just very strange."
Because he is at sea for most of the year fishing for opilio crabs, Josh Harris, said he had no real sense of the "Deadliest Catch" audience until now.
"Some people come up to me, crying and give me a hug and tell me they're sorry," Josh Harris. "The most respectful fans, I must tell you. We've gotten a lot of support from people who have been in similar situations and it does help. What is the right way to grieve? Those are weird questions. You don't know what you're supposed to do when you're put in the situation. And we're working through it and a lot of people have been through it. And they've all helped us out in many ways. The American people have taken us in as a family of their own. So watching this is going to upset a lot of people, watching what we had to go through. And it's not easy. I've lived it already, but they don't know what to expect. I know what to expect and I'm telling you, it's going to be very, very powerful footage."
Josh Harris says he has stopped smoking and is on a "wellness kick" to spread awareness about the dangers of cigarette smoking, which ultimately killed his father.
"I just want people to know they need to take care of themselves in every way because there's a lot of good people out there who are cared about and loved," Josh Harris said. "I wish he could have seen his grandchildren someday. But we're fortunate we have all the episodes. I got to be on TV with my father and that's something nobody else gets. A lot of good memories."
Josh and Jake Harris also have decided what they will do with the Cornelia Marie.
"We're going fishing, baby," Josh Harris said. "We're going to keep the old man's dream alive."
The following are clips from Tuesday night's episode:
— Maria Elena Fernandez
Photo: Capt. Phil Harris and the crew of the Cornelia Marie. (Capt. Phil Harris is in the center; Josh and Jake Harris are right of him.) Credit: Discovery
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