Desi Arnaz Jr. is lucky enough to call Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz “mom” and “dad” — but even though he was born into a famous family, life has not always been easy for him. As fans know, Arnaz Jr.’s parents rose to fame during their wildly popular show, I Love Lucy. The pair fittingly played spouses (Lucy and Ricky Ricardo), with Lucy regularly scheming behind Ricky’s back as all hilarity ensued. Some of the most memorable moments in television history played out on the show, including the chocolate factory episode, where Lucy frantically shoves chocolate anywhere that it would fit. There was another highly-rated episode in which John Wayne’s footprints get stolen. And, of course, who could forget the vitameatavegamin (say that three times fast) episode?
According to History, I Love Lucy originally aired between 1951-1957 and won an impressive five Emmys during its tenure. Luckily, fans can watch the show’s reruns on various networks, allowing Ball and Arnaz’s timeless humor to live on forever. On the personal side of things, Arnaz and Ball were married for 20 years, and welcomed two children together, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr, per Biography, before calling it quits in 1960. The pair had many ups and downs in their personal and professional lives, and it’s safe to say that their divorce broke hearts across the country.
But even though the famous family had more wealth and fame than most could imagine, son Desi Arnaz Jr. struggled through many things. Keep scrolling to find out more.
Desi Arnaz Jr.'s career and the tragic death of his wife
Acting was quite literally in Desi Arnaz Jr.’s blood, and he followed in the footsteps of his parents by making a career of the craft. According to his IMDb page, the actor starred in his first role when he was just four years old, fittingly playing an uncredited role as a spectator on his parents’ show, I Love Lucy. A few years later, he starred in The Lucy Show from 1962-1965. In 1970, he appeared in one episode of The Brady Bunch, and he also played a small role in a few episodes of The Love Boat. In all, Arnaz Jr. has 38 acting credits to his name, and he’s also stood behind the camera as a producer two times.
Arnaz Jr. was also lucky and successful in love. According to Legacy, the actor married Amy Arnaz in 1987, and they lived together in Boulder City, Nevada, for most of their lives. The couple had one daughter, Haley Arnaz. While Arnaz Jr. and Amy enjoyed a long marriage, it sadly ended in January 2015 when Amy died. Glen Charlow reports that she was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years prior. Amy was just 63 years old at the time of her death, which occurred a mere four days after Arnaz Jr.’s 62nd birthday.
Inside Lucille Ball's son's 'identity problem' and battle with addiction
Desi Arnaz Jr.’s struggles with addiction nearly consumed his life. According to Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert’s book, Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (via Cheat Sheet), the actor felt pressures to live up to his famous parents, and the constant battle caused him to abuse drugs and alcohol. He noted that one of the first times that he felt a sense of jealousy was when he was only three years old and went to visit his parents on set of I Love Lucy.
Explaining that he was confused because he wasn’t the one who was playing their son, Arnaz Jr. said, “I had this identity problem, and it wasn’t helped by people calling me Little Ricky, a name I learned to despise.” He added, “I remember wanting rather desperately to be better at something – anything – than the boy who played Little Ricky. For a while, it seemed as if everything in my life was connected to Little Ricky’s.”
Arnaz Jr. began abusing drugs when he was a teenager, and he told Psychology Today that he would give doctors money and get prescription drugs in exchange. The people around him, including his mother, Lucille Ball, urged him to seek help. However, the real wake-up call for Arnaz Jr. came at the age of 25, when doctors showed him scans of what drugs had done to his brain, and told him it looked like that of a 60-year-old. Of course, addiction is a constant battle, but it helped greatly when Arnaz Jr. found self-discovery.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Desi Arnaz Jr.'s first short-lived marriage
Desi Arnaz Jr. was married once before longtime love Amy Arnaz. The actor and Matlock star Linda Purl enjoyed a short-winded union from 1980-1981 (via Fabiosa). According to Sitcoms Online, Arnaz Jr. wrote an article for Women’s Day in 1991 titled, “My Mom Lucille Ball,” where he shared that the I Love Lucy star gave him and Purl her blessing before they tied the knot. However, he noted that his stubbornness and struggle with drug addiction ultimately led to divorce.
“For one thing, I was so stubbornly sure I had all the answers. For another, drugs were taking over my life. At 18 I had already experimented with LSD, mescaline, cocaine, Quaaludes, and marijuana,” Arnaz Jr. wrote. “By 23 I was out of control. I couldn’t maintain a relationship with anyone.”
Arnaz Jr. also shared that he had reached his breaking point at a hotel in Las Vegas one year after his divorce. “I felt miserable — my marriage had recently ended-and I’d gone on a three-day drug binge to try to ease the loneliness. But it didn’t work,” he confessed. “At 29 I was dying physically and spiritually.” The one bright spot to come out of the split? Arnaz Jr. and Purl were reportedly on good terms after calling it quits and were able to remain friends.
Lucille Ball's son, Desi Arnaz Jr., became a father when he was a teenager
It’s no secret that Desi Arnaz Jr. had a rough upbringing, with plenty of things going wrong during his teenage years. The star had a strong interest in girls at a young age, and when he was only 15 years old, he became a father. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Arnaz Jr. got involved with model Susan Howe, and the pair had one child, Julia Howe. Though Arnaz Jr. often denied this, Do You Remember? reports that a paternity test in the early ’90s proved that he was actually Julia’s father.
Interestingly enough, Julia took to a sitcom blog (via Do You Remember?) to spill some of the details of her and Arnaz Jr.’s strained relationship. “Hi. My name is Julia Arnaz aka Julia Howe. I legally changed my name after my DNA was done w/my father, Desi, Jr., in 1990: 99.93 percent I am indeed an Arnaz,” she wrote. “My father has stepped up to the plate, and we are working on a strong and healthy relationship now for 16 years.”
Julia went on to reveal that Arnaz Jr. helped put her through rehab many times, and also paid for her daughter’s college education. Sadly, Julia’s daughter, Desiree S. Anzalone, died at the age of 31 due to breast cancer complications. Despite her mother’s strained relationship with her grandfather, Arnaz Jr., Desiree had nothing but good things to write (via Instagram) about Lucille Ball, who would have been her great-grandmother — and who she sadly never met.
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