‘I Love Lucy’: How Did Desi Arnaz Die?

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were the stars of I Love Lucy from 1951 to 1957. Although they had a rocky marriage, fans viewed them as the ideal couple. After many years in the entertainment industry, Arnaz died on December 2, 1986 at the age of 69. How did Arnaz die?

Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo on ‘I Love Lucy’

Lucille Ball with Desi Arnaz | Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Lucille Ball with Desi Arnaz | Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Arnaz played Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy for six years. His character, Lucy Ricardo’s husband, was famous for saying, “Lucy, I’m home!” Ricky was a bandleader who worked at the Tropicana Club, and he often sang the song “Babalu.” In her book, Love, Lucy, Ball said the song “Babalu” became associated with Arnaz the same way “Over the Rainbow” became associated with Judy Garland.

Ricky was the serious one, while Lucy was the funny one who would get herself into situations that made the audience laugh. Some of Lucy’s funniest moments were the episode where she worked in a chocolate factory and the episode where she starred in a vitamin commercial.

How did Desi Arnaz die?

Arnaz died of lung cancer. His doctor told the Los Angeles Times his habit of smoking Cuban cigars contributed to his death. A few years before he died, he reportedly underwent surgery for complications from diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestinal tract). According to the publication, he had to have four surgeries from 1969 to 1970.

Lucille Ball said she was happy Desi Arnaz no longer had to suffer

Despite a tough marriage, Arnaz and Ball remained close throughout the years. Even after they moved on and married other people, they managed to maintain a friendship. Arnaz’s death was difficult for Ball. She said she was grateful her ex-husband no longer had to suffer.

“Mr. Arnaz had been ill with cancer for many months, and my family and I have been praying for his release from this terrible ordeal,” said Ball in a statement released to the Los Angeles Times. “Desi died early this morning in his daughter’s arms. Our relationship had remained very close, very amiable, over the years, and now I’m grateful to God that Desi’s suffering is over.”

Desi Arnaz’s last words to Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1956 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1956 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ball and Arnaz’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, said her parents had their last conversation two days before her father died. Their final phone call was on their wedding anniversary, November 30.

In the book Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert, Lucie described her parents’ last conversation. “I just shut the door and let them have their time together,” she said. “I started them off, like two kids on a first date.”

Arnaz’s last words to Ball were to say he loved her and wish her well with an upcoming television appearance. His daughter had to hold the phone to his ear because he had become so weak.

“I had to hold the phone,” said Lucie. “I couldn’t get out of the room. And he said, ‘I love you, too, honey. Good luck with your show.’”

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