Rock Out for ’50s Heartthrob Ricky Nelson’s Birthday Today

RICKY NELSON, 1962, 'Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' publicity portrait.
Everett Collection

“Anyone who knocks rock ‘n’ roll either doesn’t understand it, or is prejudiced against it, or is just plain square.”

Ricky Nelson once shared this quote in the ’50s during the height of his career and you know what, it kind of rings true for nostalgic music lovers! Born Eric Hilliard Nelson on May 8, 1940, he would have turned 83 this year. Nelson was best known as a child star in the radio and television series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He also had a long career as a musician and was able to star in movies alongside the greats including John Wayne and Dean Martin.

HERE COME THE NELSONS, Ricky Nelson, 1952

Everett Collection

Nelson’s career began when he was just eight years old. He played himself in the radio series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and a few years later appeared in Here Comes the Nelsons, both based on his real-life family as the son of Harriet Hilliard Nelson and Ozzie Nelson. By the late ’50s, he recorded his first album that went to No. 1 on the charts and had his own television show. His first record was inspired by his girlfriend at the time, Diana. She was a huge Elvis Presley fan and Nelson wanted to impress her by saying that he was making a record too. He made it happen with his father’s help, although never quite reached the level of Elvis fame.

However, Nelson was actually the first teen idol to promote his music records on television. During his music career, he also continued to act appearing in movies such as Rio Bravo and Love & Kisses.

RIO BRAVO, John Wayne, Ricky Nelson, 1959

Everett Collection

On his 21st birthday, he changed his recording name to Rick Nelson instead of Ricky Nelson in hopes of appearing older and getting rid of the child star image. Unfortunately, his fame fizzled in the late ’60s and beyond, and the albums that followed never reached the same kind of success.

Ricky Nelson on SOLID GOLD, circa 1982

Ron Wolfson/Everett Collection

His life was sadly cut short in 1985 after being a passenger in a plane crash. The pilots survived but all seven passengers on the small flight died on New Year’s Eve. On the 20th anniversary of his death, PBS ran a special called Ricky Nelson Sings featuring his children and other stars including Kris Kristofferson which went over his life and career. With all of the nostalgic tours coming this summer, it is hard not to imagine that Ricky might have been among them if he had survived.

Collecting the 1950s
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Collecting the 1950s

Aug. 2022

For fans of the Nifty Fifties enjoy this treasure trove of ’50s memorabilia.

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