Born into a family of entertainers, Tracy Nelson followed in her grandparents’ and parents’ footsteps to become a star. Sadly, her life behind the scenes was not as glamorous, having to battle cancer three times.
In 1963, Tracy Nelson was born into a star-studded family in Santa Monica, California. She is the daughter of the famous singer-songwriter Ricky Nelson, and wife, Kristin Harmon, and the eldest of four children.
Coming from a family of singers, actors, and athletic stars – it was not long until Tracy found herself in the limelight. Here’s a glimpse into her life in front of and behind the camera.
Tracy Nelson speaks onstage at the screening of ‘Yours, Mine, and Ours’ at the 2019 TCM 10th Annual Classic Film Festival on April 14, 2019 in Hollywood, California. | Source: Getty Images
Tracy was a natural for the arts, joining big names such as Lucille Ball in the classic film “Yours, Mine, and Ours,” even before she had turned five. After attending high school and a few years of college, she went on to pursue the big screen, earning her spot in the industry with her hit role in “Square Pegs.”
Sadly, the young lady found her life completely changed with her father’s passing at just 45. His life was taken by an aircraft heater mishap, causing it to go up in flames, leading to its passengers’ demise. The pilots were the sole survivors of the tragic accident.
Remnants of the life-changing accident rippled to Tracy’s life as the public speculated her father’s freebase cocaine was the cause. Shortly after, Tracy’s uncle Mark Harmon, and his wife, actress Pam Dawber, petitioned for custody of Tracy’s then 13-year-old brother Sam.
Tracy Nelson attends the screening of ‘Yours, Mine, and Ours’ at the 2019 TCM 10th Annual Classic Film Festival on April 14, 2019 in Hollywood, California | Photo: GettyImages
The actor claimed that his sister Kristin was too emotionally unstable because of her drug dependency to take care of the teenager. The custody battle often appeared on the news, but eventually, Harmon withdrew the petition.
However, he obtained visitation rights to make sure Sam was in a safe environment. Since then, Tracy and Mark had grown close again. “I would like Mark to teach Remi how to swim,” Tracy said, referring to her daughter. “Just as he taught me.”
Sam, on the other hand, told Medium in 2016, two years before Kristin passed away, that with time his relationship with his mother had improved: “As you get older, things that were important aren’t important anymore. Problems aren’t problems anymore. You work through them, or you don’t.”
American singer and actor Ricky Nelson (1940 – 1985), circa 1960 | Photo: GettyImages
Throughout the ’80s, Tracy found her footing in television roles and movies, appearing in “Glitter,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “St. Elsewhere,” “The Love Boat,” and “Family Ties.” After a break from acting, Tracy returned on television in the 1989 series “Father Dowling Mysteries.”
Fortunately, doctors stopped the bleeding in time, and she received an additional four days of treatment until she went home for good.
Continuing her career came easy for the actress, appearing in series such as “A League of Their Own” and “Melrose Place.” However, her life behind the scenes was not a bed of roses. During her hiatus, Tracy had to face a harsh reality through her cancer battle.
Ricky Nelson (1940 – 1985) arrives at London Airport with his wife Kristin, for a concert tour of the UK, 16th February 1972 | Photo: GettyImages
On July 25, 1987, Tracy met her partner of four years, William R. Moses, but at the same time, Tracy had started feeling tired and weak. After a while, not even the makeup artists on her show, “Father Dowling Mysteries,” could conceal the bags that had developed under her eyes.
Then, a dream had Tracy visit a doctor in December 1987. “My father called me on the phone and said, I know you miss me, but it’s not time for you to die. You have to go see a doctor,” she recalled the dream.
Doctors found a grapefruit-sized tumor in her chest, and a biopsy confirmed stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The following week at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angeles, her spleen, a portion of her liver, and samples of her lymph nodes got removed during a surgery that lasted seven hours.
Actress Tracy Nelson attends the 29th Annual Grammy Awards on February 24, 1987 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California | Photo: GettyImages
“I was like a human biology project,” Tracy recalled of her surgery, which left her with a 15-inch scar from her ribcage to her pelvic area. Tracy received grueling biweekly chemotherapy treatments for two months, which left her down to 87 lbs., bald, exhausted and without hope. She said:
“Chemotherapy takes five hours to administer through a catheter. It’s the longest five hours of your life. It feels like you’re being poisoned.”
What came as a greater challenge was having to endure her husband’s pain, as his father faced a different form of cancer. The odds were nothing against Tracy as she managed to juggle treatments with her career, pulling off roles in “Father Dowling Mysteries,” “Perry Mason,” and “Melrose Place.”
Actress Tracy Nelson poses for a portrait in 1986 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: GettyImages
Tracy found herself at her lowest point when she was ready to give up but a sudden “wonderful, euphoric feeling” swooped her off her feet, making her feel so much love. It was at that when she knew about self-love. She recalled:
“That day I made a decision to stay alive. That’s when I really started to fight.”
Throughout chemotherapy and countless sessions of radiation, the couple feared yet stayed hopeful of one day wanting to become parents. While some doctors may have insisted it was already a privilege to be alive, the couple refused to think that their chance at becoming a family was slim.
Tracy Nelson attends Love Boat Cast Christening Of Regal Princess Cruise Ship at Port Everglades on November 5, 2014 | Photo: GettyImages
It took more than a year to regain full strength, and about two years later, they received favorable pregnancy results.
“I was stunned. It was a relief on the one hand, but terrifying on the other, I wondered whether my baby would be all right,” Tracy said while she worried about the possible effects radiation could have on her baby.
Thankfully her fears proved groundless as she gave birth to her healthy 7 pounds and 11 ounces daughter, Remington Elizabeth on August 11, 1992.
However, a week after she got home from the hospital, Tracy began to hemorrhage from her uterus. She broke into tears, thinking her pregnancy was too good for reality and that she would die without seeing her baby grow up.
Fortunately, doctors stopped the bleeding in time, and she received an additional four days of treatment until she went home for good. Just when she thought she was in the clear, the trauma Tracy suffered from her radiation treatments contributed to further health issues down the road.
In 2005, Tracy got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and five years later, she got breast cancer. Still, the actress bravely fought to live. Tracy fully recovered from a bilateral mastectomy and a complete reconstruction.
Tracy Nelson on April 14, 2019 in Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images
She has since become an active cancer research advocate and also served as the spokesperson for The Lymphoma Research Foundation of America.