Yesterday, we spoke with Deadliest Catch executive producer Thom Beers, who told us when Capt. Phil Harris awoke from the medically-induced coma he was placed in after his Jan. 29 stroke, the skipper wanted the cameras to keep filming: They needed a great finish to the story. Harris, who died Feb. 9 at the age of 53, always knew how to tell a good tale. When EW’s Clark Collis spoke with him in 2007, he explained how he got his start in fishing: “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 the money?, Clark asked. “You want the honest answer? I bought a car, I bought a house, and I bought a couple of hookers.”
In that same 2007 interview, Harris was asked when he would retire. “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,” he said. “Maybe four, five years.” Many fans will wonder why he returned to his captain’s chair after a blood clot traveled through his heart and settled on one of his lungs in 2008 — a condition that did force him to call in a relief skipper for the Cornelia Marie. Beers admits he asked the question. “We’re sitting there behind the scenes going ‘Phil, is it really time for you to go back out there again?’ It’s not up to us. It’s up to you and your doctor.’ We were concerned. It wasn’t that he was resigned to what he was doing, he just said, ‘This is what I do. I can accept that.’ He was a man that felt that he was on a path, and it was the right path, and nobody could really take that away from him. He died doing what he loved, and that’s important.”
Harris’ 2008 illness leads into Beers’ all-time favorite story about Capt. Phil: A high school friend had sent Beers an email about various things, one of which was her worry over Phil’s health. She asked how Harris was doing. “So I forwarded it to Phil in an email and said ‘Phil, how you doing?’ He called me and said ‘I’m not real big on that email thing, but give me her number. I’ll call her,” Beers says. “Instead of taking two seconds to write, ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ he spent a half an hour on the phone with her explaining his whole medical condition. That’s the kind of generous soul the guy was. He was extraordinarily generous with his time and his energy.”
He was often that unpredictable. Beers, who also produced Monster Garage, recalls another favorite story: He’d loaned Harris, Time Bandit Capt. Johnathan Hillstrand, and a few other guys his tricked-out 1996 Chevy Impala Super Sport while they were visiting Los Angeles... “I see them one night. They come over and pick it up. We have dinner at my house. And then I don’t see them. About four days later, I get a call from Johnathan. Again, I’m in Los Angeles. He says, ‘Can you do us a favor? We got to leave town in a hurry. We left the car. Can you get somebody to pick it up?’ I go, ‘Yeah. Okay. No problem. Where is it?’ He goes, ‘Uh, Las Vegas.’ I’m like, ‘What? What do you mean Las Vegas?’ ‘Yeah, we had to leave town in a hurry.’ I didn’t even ask. That’s the kind of guys these guys are. I love these guys. They’re just rough and tumble. Not great table manners, but I’ll tell you what, they’ll tell you a story, they’ll live hard and they’ll play hard and they’ll take the risks, and God, you gotta look up to that. So many people spend their lives in complacency. These guys, man, there’s nothing complacent about them. And Phil certainly shows us that.”
Discovery will air a Deadliest Catch marathon this Saturday, starting at noon ET. Season 6, which Harris was shooting at the time of his passing, premieres in April.
Photo credit: Blair Bunting/Getty Images