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Whatever Happened To Captain Phil On Deadliest Catch?

The early 2000s were overflowing with reality television programs, from super nannies and tricked-out cars to extravagant home makeovers and pregnant sixteen-year-olds. According to The Washington Post, over 300 reality series were on air between 2001 and 2015. However, one distinctive series always stood out from the rest for its unbelievable realistic depictions of workplace hazards. The fearless crew on Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" consistently inspired viewers with their unwavering dedication and tremendous success in Alaskan crab fishing.

For five awe-inspiring seasons of "Deadliest Catch," Captain Phil Harris fearlessly sailed the Bering Sea fishing for wild Alaskan crab. The Discovery Channel reality series hit captivated millions of audience members due to Harris' high energy, contagious laugh, and extreme perseverance. His ability to maintain such high spirits in the harsh and deadly conditions of the Northern Pacific Ocean solidified both a loyal crew and fanbase. Both were ultimately devastated when the beloved Captain tragically died in 2010.

The young skipper's start at sea

The captain of the Cornelia Marie was seemingly destined for a life at sea. Captain Phillip "Phil" Harris started the hard and intense work on fishing boats at the young age of seven, per an archive of the Cornelia Marie's official site. Ten years later, the fearless teen began his treacherous work crabbing aboard the F/V American Eagle. By 21, Phil was one of the youngest captains in the Bering Sea while running the F/V Golden Viking out of Seattle. In 1990, he purchased the iconic Cornelia Marie with his wife (who the ship was named after) that was heavily featured on the reality series.

Phil was a hardworking family man whose father initially taught the crab business. He continued the family business with his sons, Josh and Jake, on the "Deadliest Catch," where he passed on the life-saving skills his father taught him.

Many remember Phil as a man who loved his sons more than life itself and someone who had a deep love for connecting with people. Phil was the kind of person to take "Deadliest Catch" shirts to sick children in hospitals to brighten their days. Captain Phil would even selflessly save stranded fishers at sea. One year, he picked up a total of 22 stranded men (via the Cornelia Marie site). With such an extraordinary display of character, it's no surprise this bold and lovable fisherman captivated millions of viewers each week.

Remodel of the Cornelia Marie

After years of working freelance, Captain Phil bought into the prosperous 106-foot ship: the Cornelia Marie. The legendary captain made a calculated decision that propelled his business and paved the way for the "Deadliest Catch" to air. The astonishing success of Captain Phil and his crew is credit to Phil's drastic remodel of the Cornelia Marie. According to a clip from Discovery, Phil's first official action was to bring the ship up to his business standards. In the video, his son Josh states, "in the crab industry, the guy with the bigger and badder toys is always the coolest" and, in Phil's case, also the most successful.

Phil had the foresight to notice that fishers were spending more time delivering product than actually fishing for crab. In the video, his son Josh notes that "a bigger boat just seemed like the right idea to do at that point in time." This seemingly obvious decision instantly set Captain Phil on the path to success and distinguished him from other fishers. Phil cut the boat into four pieces and added 22 feet to make room for 100 thousand more pounds of crab (bringing the grand capacity to over 300 thousand pounds). This staggering difference is one of the main reasons viewers were so intrigued by "Deadliest Catch." The sight of these enormous silver cages filled to the brim with bright red crabs against the crashing waves was always a magnificent scene to behold.

An early ratings hit

The "Deadliest Catch" was Discovery's highest-rated series for 2006, with over 2.5 million viewers, according to The Futon Critic. The early success of the Emmy nominated series would continue to rise in viewers as a loyal fanbase grew around Captain Phil, his family and crew, and their dangerous expeditions. 

These numbers are even more impressive when you factor in the consistency and growth they occurred. According to Ratings Ryan, viewership was only around 1.4 million at the beginning of the second season. The finale of that very same season showed a drastic growth by reigning in a whopping 2.8 million viewers. These high numbers in viewership are a grand testament to the series' ability to relate to a wide variety of people. The dangerous and intriguing nature of the job draws viewers in, but the relatable familial aspect of the series makes them stay season after season.

Phil is thrown from his bunk during a storm

In season 4 of the "Deadliest Catch," a devastating storm rocked the crew and gravely injured our beloved Captain Phil. In the 12th episode of the season (titled "Mortal Men"), two crew members are injured, and a rough wave launches the sleeping Captain Phil out of his bed. The captain wakes up shrieking in pain.

"Well, when we hit that wave, this bench came flyin' outta here," he said. "I came flyin' on outta bed and landed up against that (he gestures to a hard wooden dresser). And I broke or cracked my ribs. And I must've done a few of 'em 'cause I'm havin' a hard time trying to breathe." Phil shakily gets out that last part while lighting a cigarette, which further ailed his health problems down the line. We see Phil coughing up blood in subsequent episodes and learn that this isn't from broken ribs.

Phil reveals a blood clot came loose in his leg and had made its way through his heart and into his lung. He heads to the doctor for a check-up as he confides in his audience during an intimate moment "the bad part about it is: I don't know if my fishing career is over, ya know? And that's gonna be a devastating deal for me if it is." Friends, family, and fans continued to watch, hoping it would not be the end of Captain Phil or his extraordinary fishing career.

The captain's homecoming

In Season 5, Captain Phil returned to board the Cornelia Marie once again. Phil is warmly greeted by a joyous crew and his son's booming welcome over the ship's intercom system. After Phil's health scare in Season 4, this is a beautiful reunion, and the audience mirrors the crew's enthusiasm. It's the return to normalcy we'd desperately yearned for...or so we'd hoped.

Phil hugs each crew member lovingly while catching up and doling out his famous hearty laugh. Phil sits back in his iconic captain's chair for a quiet moment. His eyes light up as he gazes out the window, and his crew looks on with elation. You can feel the love in the air, and it's heartwarming among these grizzly fishermen. This moment gave everyone some peace of mind concerning Phil, which only made it harder when his condition ultimately turned in the following season.

Season 6 premiere shatters previous viewership records

The premiere of Season 6 of the "Deadliest Catch" shattered the previous viewership records with an incredible 4.6 million viewers, per The Hollywood Reporter. While Phil was not the only captain on the show, his presence arguably glued viewers to their televisions. Following Phil's frightening health scares in the previous season, viewers were more invested in the series than ever before. However, little did they know that this would sadly be Phil's final season of the show.

"Deadliest Catch" became a much darker series in the second half of the sixth season. Phil's son Jake had been stealing his father's pain pills and was finally confronted by him at the end of the tenth episode. Phil is outraged and calls Jake a "thief" and a "liar," to which he responds he's merely an "addict" via CBS News. Over four million viewers watched while the father and son's relationship deteriorated alongside Phil's health. 

The beginning of Phil's Major Health Problems

In Season 6, Episode 11, Captain Phil suffered another major health scare. When he wasn't answering the ship's phone, his crew came to check on him to find Phil collapsed and in terrible pain. He was conscious but immobile as he'd suffered a massive stroke with his left side now numb. His crew and sons look on hopelessly and quietly sob as he's taken off-board by health professionals. The crew works together to move Phil until he's airlifted to the hospital. Viewers and crew members are stunned and devastated by Phil's sudden turn of health.

In the following episode, the neurosurgeon who operated on Phil for 12 hours reveals Phil suffered a "devastating" stroke and has a long road of recovery ahead of him. He comments that the "malignant stroke should've killed him," and Phil is very fortunate to be alive. Fans of the series and crew members breathe a sigh of relief as it seems Captain Phil will be okay after all.

Road to recovery - the deadliest brew

During Captain Phil's recovery, he launched his own line of coffee named the "Deadliest Brew" via PR Log. The flavors were aptly titled with thematic names like "Deck Hand," "Midnight Sunrise," and "The Captain's Brew." This venture was extremely fitting for the sea captain who frequently drank pots and coffee in the series. This high caffeine intake was also detrimental to Phil's health, especially in combination with his chain-smoking. However, his line of coffee is a beautiful silver lining in the last years of his life.

Phil even made an endearing video thanking fans for their outpouring of support during his recovery and their enthusiasm for his coffee. This beautiful exchange shows how deeply he truly cared for his fans and how much they meant to him. You can see it simply how his face lights up when talking to the camera (us) as it always had on the "Deadliest Catch."

A devastating loss - Phil's early death

After seeing positive results from Phil's recovery, viewers and family members were hopeful the captain would pull through. However, Phil ultimately died from complications due to his stroke, and his family and fans were devastated. He was honored by his sons, who provided Discovery with a quote (via The Hollywood Reporter). 

"It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our dad — Captain Phil Harris," wrote the brothers. "Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end. For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers." 

The events leading up to Phil's death were shown in Season 6, Episode 14, where a tribute was also aired. The episode is a hallmark of the unique capabilities of reality television as it captures the emotional final days of Captain Phil Harris.

The captain's tribute

Phil's final episode was a beautiful tribute full of remembrance and grace. The emotional ending honored the fallen captain that was shared with viewers in Season 6. Entertainment Weekly reported a record 8.5 million viewers for the episode. The final episode would feature a beautiful last moment with Phil and his sons, a charged verbal altercation between those sons, and reconciliation for Phil and Jake. Phil always insisted the cameras keep rolling on him following his stroke, and these beautiful, unforgettable moments are precisely why.

The premiere of the seventh season featured the scattering of Phil's ashes. Today reflected on the emotional voice over used featuring the late Captain Phil saying, "if those kids stick with crab fishing, you know, and stay on a decent boat and they learn something — yeah, I think that they'll have a good life, I mean, it was great for me." The audio plays as his loved ones send Phil's ashes out to sea in a beautiful ceremony fitting the beloved captain.

Troubled waters ahead for 'Deadliest Catch'

After Phil passed, "Deadliest Catch" was hit with some troubled waters proceeding the series' seventh season. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that "Deadliest Catch" co-stars Captain Sig Hansen and Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand quit the series after being hit with a $3 million lawsuit. This news came from Discovery, who served the co-stars after allegedly leaving unfinished work for the developing spinoff.

Discovery also hoped the Harris sons could fill the shoes of their recently deceased father, which was of utmost importance as the series over doubled its viewership from Season 4 through Season 6. The Harris sons reminisced their father in a statement from Discovery (via The Hollywood Reporter) "Our dad made a tremendous connection with so many fans, and it is such a fitting tribute to his life that we, his sons, can remain fishing on the boat that he skippered for so many years." This statement spurred a new question on everyone's minds: could the Harris boys carry on their father's legacy?

'Deadliest Catch' nets success once again

The answer was yes, as devoted fans of the "Deadliest Catch" have much to celebrate today. In 2011, The Hollywood Reporter posted news of the series' astounding four Emmy wins for Captain Phil's final season. The series won for Outstanding Reality Series, as well as editing, cinematography, and sound mixing.

In 2020, the "Deadliest Catch" launched a spin-off series subtitled "Bloodline," where Phil's son Josh captains the ship. Phil's legacy is warmly felt throughout as Josh explores Phil's old Hawaiian charts in the series. Josh's primary goal is to uncover his father's untold life's desire in these maps by following his old footsteps (via Discovery). The legacy sequel has captivated audiences to the same degree as the original because the Harris family has always been the heart and soul of "Deadliest Catch." According to The Futon Critic, the freshman series "Bloodline" was Discovery's highest-rated launch and top series premiere for 2020. "Deadliest Catch" (in its sixteenth season at the time) returned to a consistent viewership of 2.2 million per The Futon Critic

Today, Ratings Ryan reports that the viewership for "Deadliest Catch" and the spin-off "Bloodline" has declined slightly. However, these numbers may not be as low as they seem since these are live viewings and don't reflect episodes streamed later. "Deadliest Catch" and "Bloodline" are currently airing Tuesdays on Discovery.