The popular ship captain had recently suffered a stroke

By Blane Bachelor
Updated February 10, 2010 09:00 AM
Discovery Channel

Captain Phil Harris, star of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, was always “a fighter and continued to be until the end,” his sons, Josh and Jake, said in a statement after he died in an Alaska hospital late Tuesday. He was 53.

Harris, a veteran of the commercial fishing industry and captain of the Cornelia Marie – a ship featured on the reality show that documents the dangerous lives of crab fishermen – was recently hospitalized after suffering a stroke while unloading crabs. He had been improving until the sudden turn.

Discovery also issued a statement, saying the popular captain “was more than someone on our television screen. Phil was a devoted father and loyal friend to all who knew him. We will miss his straightforward honesty, wicked sense of humor and enormous heart. We send our thoughts and prayers to Phil’s sons Josh and Jake and the Cornelia Marie crew.”

According to Harris’s sons, their father “was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers.”

Like most commercial fishing veterans, Harris had his share of close calls. During the 2008 season of Deadliest Catch, he suffered a pulmonary aneurism and “damn near died” he said in a television interview. “The fact is … you can die really, really easy out there It was blowing too hard for the Coast Guard, and I had blood coming up.”

Harris also wasn’t one to sugar-coat the hardships of working sleepless days in harsh, demanding conditions. “Days turn into weeks,” he said. “You push yourself through the most extreme that you can, that your body will take.”

On Wednesday morning as the news of Harris’s death spread, messages boards on the Discovery Channel’s Web site were flooded with tributes and condolences to his family, while the Web site for the Cornelia Marie appeared to have crashed.