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Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were Hollywood’s golden couple in real life and as Ricky and Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. The two met on the film Too Many Girls and tied the knot in 1940. Despite a successful business partnership and sharing two children, Lucie and Desi Jr., they divorced after 20 years of marriage. Arnaz recalled the conversation where he initiated making their split official.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz of 'I Love Lucy'
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz of ‘I Love Lucy’ | Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball had a tumultuous relationship

Arnaz and Ball’s relationship involved many ups and downs from the moment they met. Early in their marriage, Ball contemplated divorcing Arnaz due to his drinking and rumored infidelity.

“Desi’s nightlife had even blasé Hollywood talking,” Ball wrote in her book, Love, Lucy. “Confidential Magazine published a story about a Palm Springs weekend of his, and this too hurt and humiliated me deeply. … During the summer of 1944, Desi stopped coming home.”

Though they were able to smooth out that particular rough patch, their relationship remained tumultuous. Arnaz described how their marriage spiraled to the point of no return.

“The more our love life deteriorated, the more we fought, the less sex we had,” Arnaz revealed in his memoir, A Book. “The more unhappy we were, the more I worked, and the more I drank. … At this point I hadn’t slept in the master bedroom for almost a year. … So I began to fill my needs elsewhere. And so did she.”

Lucille Ball had a strong reaction to Desi Arnaz’s announcement

In his book, Arnaz wrote of the day he and Ball had yet another argument in his office. She was leaving the building when he pulled her aside at the water fountain.

“I followed her and as she stopped to have a drink, I told her, ‘Lucy, I want a divorce,'” Arnaz said. “She looked up at me, and those big blue eyes can express many emotions, the desire to kill not being the least of them.”

Arnaz told Ball that their business pressures had driven them apart and they needed to split up since their “personal lives are so miserable“. Ball left the building without a response – until Arnaz came home later that night.

“Her temper got the best of her,” Arnaz remarked, revealing that Ball asked, “‘Why don’t you die then? That would be a better solution, better for the children, better for everybody. … I’ll tell you something, you bastard, you cheat, you drunken bum – I’ve got enough on you to hang you. By the time I get through with you, you’ll be as broke as when you got here.”

Desi Arnaz had Lucille Ball file for divorce

Arnaz went to his dressing room to give the famous redhead time to cool off, but she followed him.

“I was about to light a cigarette when she came at me with a dueling pistol, pointed it at my face and pulled the trigger,” he wrote. “I lit my cigarette on its flame. … I told her, ‘Look I know you didn’t mean everything you said, but for the sake of the children, let’s try to make this as amicable as possible’.”


Desi Arnaz Described His Final On-Air Scene with Lucille Ball: ‘It Was the Last Time We Would Be Lucy and Ricky’

To keep up appearances for Ball’s sake, Arnaz wanted her to be the one to initiate court proceedings for their split.

“We’ll get a good lawyer for you and you’ll be the one to sue for divorce,” Arnaz told Ball. “We will have no trouble arriving at a fair financial settlement and all that other stuff, but please, don’t ever threaten me again.”

Arnaz added, “We never lived together under the same roof after that night.” They divorced in 1960.