July 20, 2010

Captain Phil Harris

What is it about this guy that has drawn such a reaction and created so many fans?

He was born in 1956, and, beginning at the age of seven, spent his life working on fishing boats. He went to work for his father at the age 17 on a crab boat. From that point forward he was a crab fisherman. He became captain of a crab boat at the age of 21. In 1990 he bought into the fishing vessel Cornelia Marie, and served as its captain from then until his death in 2010.

His story has touched many people since the first airing of the television program Deadliest Catch on the Discovery channel in 2005. His fan base in fanatical and includes people from all walks of life, from quiet unassuming people who enjoy his manner in dealing with his crew and family, all the way to Harley Davidson nuts he seemed to be able to bring these people in and give them what they want.

For me, I watched the show off and on over the years and recently tuned in when I heard about him passing away in February of this year after suffering a stroke. Tonight I watched the episode when he died and then watched the tribute episode that followed. When the program was over, I thought about why I wanted to see it and what it was that drew me to it. I came to the conclusion that it was because of the passing away of my own father in February of 2008 and all that followed during the weeks after. I was simply drawn to it as a moth to a flame. I could identify with his children, friends, and family.

Deadliest Catch can be entertaining to be sure, but I never watch the program every week, I mean its the same thing over and over. Rough weather, hard working guys doing a near impossible job while dealing with a mountain of tension and stress... All for money so they can support their families and lifestyles. Watch a television program about this? Everyone does this almost every day.

In pondering what the attraction of this one man is I came to a simple conclusion. Almost everyone that watches the show can relate to him on some level. He worked hard to support people that love him, as I stated, and he played hard doing the things he loved to do. He was no angel and lived a rough and tumble life through the seventies burning his way through money and brain cells as most people we all know have done. For the Harley crowd, he loved motorcycles. For the gear head crowd he also loved cars and anything fast. For the burnout crowd he lived fast and hard, yet seemed to make it through to success. For the family oriented crowd, he loved his children and ex wife deeply and provided well for them and taught his sons the hard lessons of life, all while keeping a fairly close watch on them.

My personal attraction to him was to his sense of humor, language, and the fact that he was content with what he wanted. With as much as he had accomplished in life he lived out his last years in a small travel trailer, building birdhouses and hanging out with his dog. All be it the travel trailer he lived in was, as one of the other Captains put it, "The only trailer I've ever been in that had granite counter tops and regular maid service..." He once called some friends and invited them over to his new place to check it out and they discovered when they arrived that he had simply bought another trailer and set it alongside the one he already had. Being only ten years younger than Phil I can remember the time that he grew up in and can relate to a few of the things he did.

He seemed to be a normal person. While watching the show I came to realize that he differed from the other Captains in the use of his authority on board his ship. He would chew someones ass when they did something wrong, but he treated his crew with respect. That is a rare thing these days when it comes to the employer/employee relationship. My favorite thing about the guy is that he was game for anything and really didn't give a shit about what people thought of him. He unapologetically killed himself in front of his family and crew, not to mention all of his fans that watched the show. He stated openly that he wouldn't be around long... "I chain smoke, eat crap, never get any sleep, and have done every drug known to man, that will catch up to you."

And catch up to him it did, he died at 53 with his sons (pictured with them above) learning the family business from him. A blood clot passed through his heart in 2008, nearly killing him, and he took eleven months off to recover. Yet, when he came back to the Cornelia Marie, he fell right back into his old habits. Smoking nonstop, not sleeping, and drinking caffeine round the clock to stay awake and catch crab. He knew what he was doing and said so. Along with his health issues from his lifestyle he also suffered several crushed discs in his back and was on pain medication for them. In one of the last episodes he confronted his younger son when he found him stealing his pain medication from his cabin. When Phil died, that son was in rehab.

These are all things that most people can relate to. Whether its similar stories about themselves, or how they conquered these things and went on, I think there is a little bit of this guy in us all.


Kayla or Gary said...

I had the priviledge to talk to him once through myspace chat. He was such a down to earth person.

The thing that drew me was he reminded me so much of my grandfather. The smoking, coffee drinking, hard working, bright blue eyes and the love to fish. The show won't be the same without him.

The Great Ethan Allen said...

I had the opportunity to watch that last episode with him in it. What a great story! I spent several years in Alaska and you meet lost of characters there. Crabfishermen are no exception! A former crabber was a guide on our boat and he told some cool stories very similar to the show. Capt Phil will be missed!

Just me... said...

You nailed it.. He was real..
He was a gruff old bastard. He was a loving father. He was a hard partier. He respected hard work. He made mistakes. He had successes..
Like I said, he was real and that's not something you see much on TV anymore..
And you just know, having a drink with him would not be boring!!!