With Discovery’s ‘Deadliest Catch‘ setting new ratings records as it charts the emotional last days of beloved Captain Phil Harris, there has been speculation about the future of Harris’ boat, the Cornelia Marie – and the show itself. We caught up with the eldest of Harris’ two sons, Josh, 28, and to hear him tell it, there are no questions about anything other than how he and his brother, Jake, 24, are going to get through this season’s remaining episodes dealing with their dad. Josh was “doing a bunch of business things” in Seattle when we spoke.
What type of ‘business things’ are going on? Trying to take over the companies and do it all up to spec, and it’s hard. I’m dealing with a couple of employees who, after my father passed away, decided they deserved the whole company and it’s caused a lot of problems. I’ve had to do some house cleaning in that aspect and it hasn’t been easy.
Sounds like a lot. I feel like pulling my hair out sometimes. I’m doing it all by myself. Jake’s up fishing. He’s on a boat called the ‘Fraid Not. The Cornelia is up there too.
Who’s captaining the Cornelia Marie? A guy named Jim Bob, who’s an old school friend of my father. Jim Walsh. He’s a real good guy.
So the big question: How have you dealt with this enormous loss? How are you dealing with it? It hasn’t been easy. I take it day by day. For the longest time I felt like it didn’t even happen. It felt like it was some sort of sick joke. I’ve had a lot of support from fans, from my best friends, from everybody who loved my dad and fished with my dad. I’ve been very grateful for that, but truthfully, it hasn’t been easy.
Did you watch last week’s episode – the first dealing with your dad’s stroke? Yeah. I watched it at a little pub in my hometown. Me and all my buddies got together. Everybody in the bar was crying.
What did you think while watching the episode? My dad was quite a guy – that’s what a thought. He was making medical history with his recovery from the stroke. The right side of his brain went without oxygen for 12 hours and so there was a lot of dead tissues. The doctors said it would be a couple weeks before he opened his eyes; but he opened them after a couple hours. They said it would be a month or two before they could take the breathing tube out of him; but he started ripping that out the second day. They said he’d probably never be able to walk again; he was walking around, shuffling. He wouldn’t give up. As I watched all this, I was remembering so much – so much that I had forgotten. It’s extremely powerful to see this. It’s hard to watch.
Did you put conditions on the network about what to show? No. They came to us and said they were going to make it as tasteful as possible and to let them know if anything bothered us. But my dad wanted it all in there. We had conversations about this type of thing. We knew something could happen when we were out there or at any other time and we all agreed to keep the cameras rolling. I mean once in, we were in all the way.
Do you plan to watch the rest of the episodes? Oh yeah. The biggest curse is watching someone you love so much die, but at the same time it helps remember all the things you got to say to them and the things they got to say to you. We were granted an extra week where we got to talk to our dad and tell him everything we wanted to tell him in case something happened. Both me and my brother feel blessed. Most people don’t get that opportunity. We did – and these final shows more than anything let us appreciate that time.
How was it seeing your dad during the first part of the season, back when he had finally returned from his embolism? After the first episode I watched, I felt like calling him up. They had some funny clips and thought I’d call him up, ask if he was checking it out. Then it kicked in that he wasn’t here and it was really strange and upsetting.
You’ve been asked quite a few times recently about the last few days you spent with your dad. But what do you remember about him from when you were a kid? What was he like back then before all of us knew him? He always had a Corvette and a mullet. Back in the day, he told me to grow a mullet and I did. For the longest time I thought a mullet was cool. Then I came to find out it wasn’t as cool as he thought. When I cut it off, he gave me a pretty hard time.
What else? When I was 10 years old, he told me it was time for me to start paying my own way, so he started taking me to Alaska so I could earn money for school clothes. The guy was a trip. He had such a big heart. And he was funny. He loved the Rolling Stones. And when Thomas Dolby’s CD, “Aliens Ate My Buick,” came out, he went nuts. One day we listened to the same song on repeat for two hours straight as he rolled that car around in a circle. He had a $5,000 stereo put into his Vet. His amplifiers were massive. There was so much power running through that car because he had to have the biggest, baddest car and a stereo to match. And halfway through the song, as we’re spinning around in a circle, he’d go, “God, that’s a good tune,” and then he’d hit it back. I’d go, “God, are you serious? Again?” For hours. But that’s the way he was. He was a goofball.
How’s your brother, Jake, holding up? He’s doing better. He had his bout, but he’s doing better. He’s definitely come a long way. He had a pretty good battle going on and with all the stresses I couldn’t help out. But he’s back on track and acting like an adult about everything. I’m real proud of him. Things are going well in that department.
What’s the fate of the Cornelia Marie? We had a portion of it now but I’m trying to find a way to get a couple million bucks so my guys can still have jobs. I think I have it handled and just have tie up some loose ends. But we’re definitely going to keep it around. That was my dad’s dream and we’re going to keep it going. Come hell or high water we’re going to be on it. Me and Jake are definitely going to keep the boat around and definitely keep fishing.
Will you and Jake be on the boat next season? Better believe it, brother. We have to hold up the tradition. We’re born, bred and corn fed to do it.