Rick Nelson was an actor who starred with his parents and older brother David on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" beginning on radio in 1949 and then on TV from 1952 to 1966, making it the longest-running family sitcom in television history.
Nelson, who began playing himself on radio at age 8 and on the television show when he was 11, endeared himself to a generation of television viewers with his boyish grin, wisecracks and his frequent declaration, "I don't mess around, boy." He and David were fixtures on the show until it went off the air.
By then, he had become adored by countless teenagers as a rock singer. By the time he was 22, he had sold 35 million records and had had 17 Top 10 hits. Although his singing career began to slide when the "Ozzie and Harriet" series ended, he made something of a comeback after forming a country rock group, Stone Canyon Band, in 1969.
At the age of 45, Nelson had decided that 1986 would be the year he would get off the county fair circuit with a new single, a record album and a television special that was scheduled to begin airing soon.
The New Year's Eve 1985 crash of his DC-3 charter, en route to Dallas from Guntersville, Ala., ended those plans. The teen idol who grew up on television and became a pop music has-been before his 25th birthday died, along with his fiancee, Helen Blair, four members of Stone Canyon Band and their road manager.
"He was Ricky who became Rick and who ended by becoming Ricky all over again," said Jimmie Haskell, the original Imperial Records music arranger who helped Nelson produce a string of nine Top 10 hit songs in the late 1950s and early '60s.
Although Nelson enjoyed some minor success with a country version of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" in 1969 and the 1972 song "Garden Party," he never dropped his original repertoire. According to some of his critics, he became a musical anachronism, unable to abandon the handful of hits that, as he prophetically sang in 1959, made "people call me a teenage idol."
Ironically, "Garden Party" is a song about how Nelson sang his own choices and not necessarily the old hits that his audience demanded because "you can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself."
Thirteen years later, that mild protest against audience tyranny had become just as much an "oldie" hit in his repertoire as "Be Bop Baby" or "Lonesome Town."