Looking back: The late great ‘Deadliest Catch’ Capt. Phil Harris knew he wasn’t going to live to 100

February 14, 2010, by Rodney Ho

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Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young once tried stand-up at the Punchline, Leno recalled. CREDIT: AJC

Credit: Rodney Ho

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young once tried stand-up at the Punchline, Leno recalled. CREDIT: AJC

Credit: Rodney Ho

caption arrowCaption
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young once tried stand-up at the Punchline, Leno recalled. CREDIT: AJC

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Phil Harris

, one of the most popular captains on Discovery’s reality show “Deadliest Catch,” led a rough life so

Explorethe fatal stroke he suffered recently

isn’t exactly a shocker, but sad nonetheless.

ExploreDiscovery

isn’t sure how it’s going to address it when the show returns in April.

I got to meet him in 2008 when he was doing some off-season promotion. We met at the downtown Hooters, which serves Alaskan snow crab. He was actually a pretty low-key, matter-of-fact guy who actually joked to me about dying.  He was refreshingly real.

Discovery is planning a special “Deadliest Catch” marathon Feb. 20. According to a press release, “We will provide information regarding a public memorial, where to send donations and a tribute show as details are finalized. ”

Here’s the story I wrote back then:

"Everything in my body aches, " says the low-key Harris, who came to Atlanta last week to meet with advertisers and media, including a lunch at the downtown Hooters. "It takes me 20 minutes to get out of bed every morning. I've had Marines come on the boat. They say this makes boot camp look like a picnic."

The name "Deadliest Catch" is no exaggeration. Pro fishermen have one of the highest mortality rates of any profession. In fact, one of Harris' workers once fell out of his boat and died. Tumbling into the chilly Alaskan waters is pretty much a death sentence, he said.

The trade-off: Fishing is lucrative. You can earn well into the six figures — if you can survive the lifestyle.

Harris has, often clearing $500,000 a year. He owns a huge lakeside home in Seattle, two Harleys and a $100,000 Z06 Corvette. He gets five months off a year. As captain of the Cornelia Marie for 17 years, the 51-year-old ranks in the top 5 in volume among the 70 boats that vie for crab. (Ironically, Harris hates eating Alaskan snow crab, which is featured on the Hooters menu with the note "dangerous to catch, fun to eat.")

And while Harris no longer has to do the heavy lifting anymore (his two sons help him out), he is hardly immune to injury. In a scene to be shown later this season, a monster wave pummeled his boat this past January, causing him to fall out of his bunk. He punctured a lung and broke his ribs. But his conditioned worsened after a blood clot dislodged from a leg and traveled to his heart.

Harris almost died from a pulmonary aneurysm, and the remains of the clot are still life-threatening.

"I'm eating massive amounts of medicine" to break down the clot, he says. "I take them every day and pray."

Then, turning to the Discovery publicist, Harris says mischievously, "You know what the ratings would have been if I had died? Hot diggity dog! He's a dead man!"

The show hardly needs the help. It draws nearly 3.5 million viewers every Tuesday in its fourth season. (In 22 airings the week of April 21, the show accumulated an audience of 19.7 million people.)

"Deadliest Catch" has spawned a raft of similar macho shows such as "Ax Men" and "Ice Road Truckers, " both on the History Channel.

"Ice road truckers?" Harris said, with derision. "I don't want to take away from those guys, but what they do is puny compared to what we do."

Indeed, he still takes pride in his work, enjoys the open seas — for now. "I'll retire the day I get scared, " he said. "I don't know when that'll be. Could be anytime!"

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