Eric Hilliard “Ricky” Nelson (May 8, 1940 – December 31, 1985) was an American musician, songwriter and actor. From age eight he starred alongside his family in the radio and television series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In 1957, he began a long and successful career as a popular recording artist. The expression “teen idol” was first coined to describe Nelson, and his fame as both a recording artist and television star also led to a motion picture role co-starring alongside John Wayne, Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson in Howard Hawks’s western feature film Rio Bravo (1959). He placed 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, and its predecessors, between 1957 and 1973, including “Poor Little Fool” in 1958, which was the first number-one song on Billboard magazine’s then-newly created Hot 100 chart. He recorded 19 additional top ten hits and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 21, 1987. In 1996 Nelson was ranked No. 49 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
Nelson began his entertainment career in 1949, playing himself in the radio sitcom series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In 1952, he appeared in his first feature film, Here Come the Nelsons. In 1957, he recorded his first single (“Im Walkin’ b/w “A Teenagers Romance”, Verve 10047X4S), debuted as a singer on the television version of the sitcom, and released the No. 1 album titled Ricky. In 1958, Nelson released his first #1 single, “Poor Little Fool”, and in 1959 received a Golden Globe nomination for “Most Promising Male Newcomer” after starring in Rio Bravo. A few films followed, and when the television series was cancelled in 1966, Nelson made occasional appearances as a guest star on various television programs. In his twenties, he moved away from the pop music of his youth and began to perform in a more country-rock style. After recording several albums with mostly session musicians, most of which flopped, he formed the Stone Canyon Band in 1969 and experienced a career resurgence, buoyed by the live album In Concert at the Troubadour, 1969 and had a surprise hit with 1972’s “Garden Party”, which peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100. His comeback was short-lived, however, as his record label was bought out and folded, and his follow-up albums were not well promoted by his new label. He continued to perform live and take small television roles through the 1970s, though his label dropped him by the end of the decade. He released two more albums, with unimpressive results, before his death in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1985.
Nelson was married once, to Sharon Kristin Harmon, from 1963 until their divorce in 1982. They had four children: actress Tracy Nelson, twin sons and musicians Gunnar and Matthew, and actor Sam.