The famous offspring of actors Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard Nelson, Rick Nelson (born Eric Hilliard Nelson) began performing on his parents' radio show when he was only four. When Ozzie and Harriet moved to television in 1952, Rick went with them and while on the show, grew up to become a teen idol, loved not only as an actor but also as a rock & roll singer who racked up hits with such singles as "Hello Mary Lou," "Travelin' Man," and "Garden Party" (his biggest and last big hit). Nelson made his feature-film debut in A Story of Three Loves. He earned critical acclaim as a cocky young gunfighter in Rio Bravo (1959) starring opposite John Wayne and Dean Martin. He continued appearing in films, in concert, and on television through the early '80s. Nelson, the father of actress Tracy Nelson and twin pop stars Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, died in a plane crash along with his fiancée and his band on New Year's Eve 1985.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Was a nationally ranked tennis player at 15.
- Got his big music break performing a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" on the family TV series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1957.
- His signature line from the TV series, "I don't mess around, boy," became a national catch phrase.
- In a 1958 issue of Time Magazine, they coined the term "Teenage Idol" to describe him.
- Was so popular, the Hollywood post office had a room just for his incoming fan mail.
- Because his father used so many of the family's real-life adventures as plots for the TV show, young Ricky often cautioned his friends to be careful about what they said around Ozzie.
- Fans booing his appearance at a 1971 Madison Square Garden oldies show, where he was playing his new songs and not the classics they had come to hear, inspired his chart-topping hit song "Garden Party."
- Was killed in a private-plane crash on December 31, 1985, on the way to a New Year's Eve concert in Dallas.