In “Redemption Day,” the Tuesday, July 13, episode of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,” viewers hear the sad news of the death of 53-year-old F/V Cornelia Marie Capt. Phil Harris, an event that actually took place in early February.
Fans saw Harris suffer a stroke in port after coming in from opilio-crab fishing in Alaska’s Bering Sea. They saw him flown to a hospital in Anchorage, where deckhand sons Josh and Jake alternated between tending to their father and battling each other, while close family friend and fellow Capt. Johnathan Hillstrand has dealt with his own emotions while trying to keep the peace between the siblings.
Sitting together over dual plates of roasted lobster and French fries before heading off to tape an appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Josh Harris and Hillstrand recall those long days in the hospital.
“I tell you right now,” Harris says. “I would not have held together [without Hillstrand]. I would not have held together if not for this guy.”
Luckily for the Harris sons (FYI, since many have wondered, Harris says their mother comes from Okinawa), Hillstrand had, only hours earlier, left his family boat, the F/V Time Bandit, in the hands of his brother, Capt. Andy Hillstrand, and decided to go off for some warm-water fishing.
“My vacation didn’t turn out how I planned at all,” he says.
“If it wasn’t for John being there,” says Harris, “I would have lost it. I can’t tell you how many nights I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared and confused, everything. I go to John. John is my best friend and my brother, family member, dad. That’s why, when I got into a fight with Jake, that’s who I’d go to.”
Not long before Phil Harris went to the hospital, he caught younger son Jake stealing the pain medication he took for his back. Jake Harris then confessed that he was a drug addict.
Following his father’s death but long before this episode aired, fans knew something was wrong, when Jake Harris was arrested for DUI in his home state of Washington.
Asked how he’s doing now, Josh Harris says, “Jake is doing a lot better. He hit the wall, as we all saw on the news, and now he’s doing really good. We’ve got a lot of responsibility that we’ve stepped into.
“He made a promise to my dad — we both did — so we’ve had to grow up a lot. Now, responsibility’s kicking into play, and we’re going to take this and run with it, do what my dad would have wanted us to do.”
As happens with many deaths, Josh Harris is dealing with issues related to his father’s estate, which includes several companies, ranging from coffee to merchandising, along with the F/V Cornelia Marie herself.
“We’re doing what we can,” Harris says. “My dad’s estate, we’ve got a lot of s*** to clean up there, because people are coming out of the woodwork, saying they’re heirs.”
It’s Harris’ goal to get the boat back in the water, starting with raising the approximately $2 million needed to buy the boat outright from his father’s partner, Cornelia Marie Devlin.
“We’ve got to wait for a couple things with the estate to clear,” Harris says, “so [the boat] can be taken out of the estate. That’s what pissed me off about the blogs and s***, people saying I’m flying around the world, spending all my dad’s money and having a good time, just getting f***ed up, and that’s not the case. It p***es me off.
“Let me make a point of saying, that’s not the case. I’m doing everything I can. I’ve got companies to run, now that my dad’s gone.”
After all, “Deadliest Catch” may be a TV show, but the industry it portrays is real, and if the Cornelia Marie remains in drydock, many people are going to be hurt.
“I gotta do what’s right,” Harris says. “The bottom line is, we’ve got families, kids, that are involved. Everybody’s looking to me, ‘Do we have a job? Is the boat going fishing?’ This is real life. If they don’t have a job, it’s not like they can go get one right now. All the boats are full. Their families will not eat; they will lose their homes.
“That’s the thing — I’ve got to step up. My brother, he’s just getting back to himself. I really think now he’s got to step up, be a man and really think. He’s going to nail it. He really needs to. He doesn’t have a choice. Dad’s not there.”
“All you can do is love your brother, man,” says Hillstrand. “You can’t make him do anything.”
“But he’s got the mentality now,” Haris says, “I think and hope. We always used to be able to talk to our dad, ‘Help us out. We’re in trouble.’ Whenever we had a question, ‘Dad, what do we do? What would you do?’ Now, we just got each other and the Hillstrands.”
“I’d like to tell you something,” Hillstrand says to Harris. “If they don’t get the boat back together, then we have a spot for you. No matter what happens, we have a spot for you.”
“I appreciate that,” says Harris.
Harris relates a story about how his father would call in the wee hours of the morning, suggesting the two head out for a ride — then reveal he was already in Josh Harris’ driveway, ready to go.
“He was a joker like that,” Harris says, “and people loved him. He was the dog at the pound that you saw, and you knew that he was bad news, and you took him home anyway.
“That was my dad, and that’s the only way I can explain it that makes any sense to me. People loved and respected him because of that, because he was real. They knew that was harmless.”
The conversation turns to lighter subjects at one point, and the MTV reality hit “Jersey Shore” comes up, prompting Harris to say, “What’s up with the ‘Jersey Shore’ clowns? The Situation? That f***ing guy. He’s a trip. I want to put those guys on a boat for three days.”
But inevitably talk returns to the strange experience for Harris and Hillstrand of watching one of the most dramatic events of their personal lives played out for millions of TV viewers.
“I did a lot of leaking,” says Hillstrand.
“The gift is also a curse,” says Harris. “You take something that was so important in your last moments, always wondering if you said the right things, if you got everything out. I remember a lot of it, but now that I’m seeing it, as hard as it is to watch it, it’s comforting to know that I did everything I could.
“My biggest regret is he never gets to see his grandchildren on this Earth. Maybe there is a heaven, maybe there is a hell. Hopefully we’ll all go to a good place…”
“I believe there is,” Hillstrand says.
“I want to believe that as much as possible,” says Harris. “My dad was my best friend; he was my hero.”
“He’d like to pinch you,” Hillstrand says, reaching over to give Harris a pinch on the left bicep, “right here, right now.”
“I know,” says Harris, rubbing his arm. “That was a good one. You got me good. That was a light pinch, but it hurts. My dad used to get me all the time. He’d call them horse bites.”
“He’d want me to do that to you,” says Hillstrand, “If you say there’s no heaven or hell.”
“Deadliest Catch: Redemption Day” airs at 9 p.m. ET, followed by “The Good Captain Phil,” the season finale episode of the companion roundtable show, “After the Catch.” Shot this season in New Orleans, it includes footage of a traditional jazz funeral service held for the captain.
Two episodes air July 20, a regular installment that follows news of Harris’ fate through the fleet, and a special tribute to the Captain
featuring memorable moments and footage of his public memorial in Seattle, and of fan remembrances from the second annual CatchCon convention, also in Seattle.
The season finale airs on July 27, as the opilio crab season comes to an end.
Photo credits: Discovery