The Last Days of Lucille Ball

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The date was March 29, 1989. The most famous comedienne in the history of show business was about to make her final TV appearance.

The great Lucille Ball was appearing at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, along with the world's most popular comedian, Bob Hope (an old friend of Lucille Ball). Hope had talked Lucy into making the joint appearance after many phone calls and much begging. Finally, Lucy had conceded, but she hated the very idea of it.

Lucy hated putting on the wig she had chosen to wear. "She complained the netting gave her 'a goddamn headache.'"

Photo of Lucy by Alan Light on Flickr

"Goddamn Hope," Lucy complained, "No one cares what the hell he looks like, but everybody cares what I look like--God, I'm so tired of myself."

Lucy did her final TV appearance with Hope, which went smoothly enough, and then she had to go back to "real life."

Her Sunken Spirits

Lucy had been a bit down. She had never completely recovered from the death of her former husband, Desi Arnaz, her co-star on the legendary I Love Lucy. Her most intimate friends saw the obvious about Lucy's love for Desi; although she was in a comfortable marriage to Gary Morton, she had always carried a torch for Desi. (Desi always sent Lucy flowers on her birthday and their anniversary, and the two kept in close touch by phone throughout the years.)

Additionally, the dismal failure of her recent TV series, Life with Lucy, weighed heavily on her mind.

Lucy occupied her days watching TV, playing Scrabble and Backgammon, and having the occasional drinks of bourbon ("slushies," as she called them).

One Last Caper

Interestingly, Lucy had one last "caper" in her life.

One night in April of 1989, there was a loud party going on next door. Lucy and her friend, Lee Tannen, found some milk crates in an alley. They used the milk crates to prop themselves up and, like two children, spied on the goings-on at the party. The two stood like two little kids, "peeping through the trellis and palm fronds." According to Tannen, he felt like Ethel Mertz in an I Love Lucy episode, standing there spying with Lucy.

"Lucy was fascinated by the goings-on, commenting on everything, and eyeing everybody who, ironically, would have given their eye teeth to meet the crazy redhead on the other side of the wall."

Heart Surgery

A few days later, on April 17, 1989, Lucy started experiencing shooting pains in her chest. Her husband called her doctor and tried to talk Lucy into going to the hospital. Lucy refused to go until Gary called Lucy's daughter, who finally convinced her, but Lucy only agreed to go if she could get nicely dressed and put on her make-up. Upon arriving, Lucy was given 7 hours of open-heart surgery at the hospital. Her operation was a success and, after a few days, she returned home.

But sadly, after Lucy arrived home she was told she couldn't live in her own bedroom; she would have to live in the guest room downstairs. Since Lucy's house had no elevators, the doctors wanted to make sure Lucy did not do any stair climbing. This apparently broke Lucy's heart. She did not want to live in a makeshift bedroom and she did not want to be treated like an invalid.

The next morning, Lucy's surgically repaired aorta ruptured again, and she went into full cardiac arrest. She was rushed back to the hospital, but this time the doctors couldn't save her.

The great "Lucy" had passed away.

"She really disintegrated so quickly," said Tannen. "Her tombstone should have read 'From Desi's death on Dec. 2, 1986, to her own death on April 26, 1989' because that was the life of her death. On her death certificate it says 'ruptured aorta,' but I believe Lucy died because she didn't want to live anymore."

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April 26, 2012 - 3:47am
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