They say that truth is stranger than fiction but when it comes to the show Deadliest Catch truth is more heartbreaking than fiction. Although most people already know that fishing boat Captain Phil Harris passed away in February at the age of 53 from a massive stroke and subsequently a pulmonary embolism, last night the episode that shows what happened aired on the Discovery Channel. To say it was a tear-jerker is an understatement considering we were watching Harris’ sons, Josh and Jake, listen to the doctor who initially says their dad is doing well even though we already know the outcome. We watched as one son gets high to deal with the stress of his father’s pain and then sends himself to rehab while the other son holds back tears while holding his dad’s hand in an Alaska emergency room.
Anyone who has watched Deadliest Catch before knows that Phil Harris, his crew, the other captains and their crews are no joke. These guys are tough; they are awake for an ungodly number of hours in the coldest, harshest weather conditions swinging around dangerous equipment on large fishing boats to make sure they meet their crab quota. They are gone from their families for weeks and months at a time while doing one of the hardest jobs in the world. Their daunting occupation demands that they are tough so when we see any of them laid up in bed or crying or anything like that it seems unnatural. And it’s really hard to watch.
As the episode went on we see Harris looking like a different person – his normally long hair is shaved, he has trouble speaking and is extremely weak. Nothing like the beer chugging, chain-smoking hardass we are used to seeing. His sons think he’s going to be ok and then Johnny Cash’s cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day” kicks in and so do the tears. His son Josh calls his brother Jake to tell him that their father has passed away and then word gets around to the captains and crews of the other boats. Even though, as viewers, we knew it was coming it was still difficult to watch. I was blubbering like a little girl and there was no stopping me. The idea of losing a parent is horrifying and something I don’t ever want to think about.
But that is what’s amazing about this show. The fact that a Discovery Channel documentary/reality series about a bunch of guys who fish for crab in the Bering Sea can evoke so much emotion is pretty incredible. Between the camaraderie and family ties, what we see happening to these people is real. Not in the bullshit Real World way, but in a way that genuinely portrays friendships, families and coworkers in one of the most hostile work environments imaginable.
I’m not sure who is going to be the Captain of the Cornelia Marie now that Harris is gone but it is clear that no one will ever take his place.