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March 2, 2022

Ricky Nelson: One of the Biggest Teen Idols of the Late 1950s and Early ’60s

Born 1940 in Teaneck, New Jersey, American singer, musician, and actor Ricky Nelson began his entertainment career in 1949, playing himself in the radio sitcom series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In 1952, he appeared in his first feature film, Here Come the Nelsons. In 1957, he recorded his first single, debuted as a singer on the television version of the sitcom, and released the No. 1 album titled Ricky. In 1958, Nelson released his first #1 single, “Poor Little Fool”, and in 1959 received a Golden Globe nomination for “Most Promising Male Newcomer” after starring in Rio Bravo.

The expression “teen idol” was first coined to describe Nelson, and his fame as both a recording artist and television star also led to a motion picture role co-starring alongside John Wayne, Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson in Howard Hawks’ western feature film Rio Bravo (1959).

Nelson placed 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, and its predecessors, between 1957 and 1973, including “Poor Little Fool” in 1958, which was the first number one song on Billboard magazine’s then-newly created Hot 100 chart. He recorded 19 additional top ten hits and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 21, 1987.

Nelson died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985, flying from Guntersville, Alabama, to Dallas, Texas, for a concert. The plane he was on, a Douglas DC-3, had a history of mechanical problems. All seven passengers, including Blair, died. Only the two pilots survived.

In 1994, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. In 1996, Nelson was ranked No. 49 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Nelson #91 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Take a look at these vintage photos to see portraits of a young and handsome Ricky Nelson in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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