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Captain Phil

Mike-Sig-Phil--Producer-croUPDATE: Mike’s Podcast read of his tribute to Phil. HERE

If you’d like to donate to the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial in honour of Captain Phil, please visit FISHERMEN’S MEMORIAL

A few years ago I was in Seattle, preparing to film the first round of After the Catch. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, After the Catch is a talk show in a bar, where The Captains and crew from Deadliest Catch gather to chat about this and that. I impersonate a moderator, and do my best to keep things on the rails. (Think Charlie Rose with cigarettes and whiskey.)

Anyway, on that first day of shooting, I arrived a few hours before filming began, and observed the kind of chaos that one can only find around a TV production. We were going to be shooting in a style called “Live to Tape,” which means we’d record the show in real time, as though it were a live production, but edit later for content. (Can you imagine filming the Captains with no time delay?) Consequently, there were at least 7 cameras positioned around the big table, and all kinds of lights hanging from the ceiling and poking through the windows. The plan was to record two shows in one afternoon. Producers and directors and cameramen and all manner of production personnel were milling about, and there was a real sense that no one actually knew what the hell was going on. Which was indeed the case.

As the Captains took their places around the table, it was clear they were not entirely sure what to expect. I can’t say they were nervous, but I can assure you that ambiguity does not sit well with men who are accustomed to being in charge. This kind of filming is the opposite of what goes on aboard their boats, and they had lots of questions about how the day would unfold. Unfortunately, I had no answers for them. (Unlike Captains, I actually prefer confusion and ambiguity – especially in television – and I told them as much. I also suggested that, being in a bar, there were any number of remedies nearby capable of taking the edge off – a completely unnecessary piece of advice, given my audience and setting.)

The only one who appeared completely at ease was Phil. He arrived at the last minute, and did so in style – cruising into the parking lot aboard a brand new motorcycle. He walked into the bar with a big smile, said hello to the gang, and then glanced at me with an amused expression. We then had the following exchange.

Me: Hey Phil, how’s it going?

Phil: Mike, I got nothing to say to you until you ride my bike.

Me: Beg your pardon?

Phil: I said that you and I have nothing to talk about until you ride my bike. Got it?

With that, Phil walked me out to his bike, tossed me his keys, crossed his arms, and waited for me to ride off. And so I did. Really, I didn’t have much of a choice.

laughing-1That was Phil Harris. He had a unique kind of generosity – the kind that sprung from a genuine enthusiasm for whatever it was he chose to focus on. It could be anything. Sometimes he focused on catching crab. Sometimes he focused on his boys, Josh and Jake. In that particular moment, he was focused on the joy of riding his new motorcycle, and he wanted to share that joy with me. He insisted upon it. That’s an unusual quality I think, and a very good one.

Not long after his embolism, I ran into Phil in Las Vegas. I was giving a speech at The ConAgra Convention, and he was doing a series of appearances for a pulley company that had set up a large booth in the exhibit area. During a break, I wandered over to watch Phil talk to his fans. There were many. They had lined up to wait for an autograph and a handshake from the now famous skipper, and the line was growing at an alarming rate.

I stood behind a nearby display, unobserved, and watched Phil carefully as he interacted with his fans. Some people are better at this sort of thing than others, and Phil was very good indeed. He handled his notoriety in a completely genuine way – as though he’d always had it. He focused on every single person who waited to meet him, and found something original to say at every turn. He answered questions that were way too personal, and stayed well beyond his required time, waiting until the last person in line shook his hand, an older guy who told Phil how pleased he was for the chance to meet a genuine American hero. Phil blushed, signed the guys hat, and thanked him for waiting to say hello.Phil,-Mike-and-guys-3

I have many memories of Phil. I wish I had more. One of my favorites was a night in LA (I think it was LA – it might have been NY. Forgive me, they all blend together now.) Regardless, it was a Discovery-sponsored event that included a bunch of their talent. Most of the Captains were there, along with me, The Mythbusters, Bear Grylls…the usual suspects. Also in attendance was David Zaslav.

David Zaslav is the CEO of Discovery Communications. He is The Big Cheese. The Head Honcho. The Top Dog. He is responsible for overseeing a dozen separate channels, and runs the leading provider of non-fiction entertainment on the face of the earth. He has become legendary, not only for what he’s accomplished in business, but also for having an attention span that rivals the life of a fruit fly. It’s true. David calls meetings that are sometimes adjourned a minute after they begin. He is very smart, and not terribly patient with those who can’t keep up. He does not sit still – ever. He is always moving. And he is constantly surrounded by people who are charged with keeping away those who might suck up his valuable time with mindless chatter.

Anyway, I was there the night David Zaslav met Phil Harris. David came hurtling through the room at the speed of sound, shaking hands and spreading sunshine. His retinue followed like the tail of a comet, and he was on his way back out the door when Phil walked in. I can swear that what I’m about to tell you is the honest truth. David and Phil shook hands, and began to chat.

Thirty seconds later, they were still talking.

A minute later – still talking.

People began to stare. Five minutes later, they were still at it. Phil was mostly listening, but David was talking intensely – and people began to speculate about what a crab boat captain and a media mogul could possibly have in common. Then, to the amazement of those who witnessed it, David and Phil wandered off to a quiet corner away from everyone else. There, they sat, and continued to talk!

This was simply unprecedented. Every few minutes, someone would slide over to extract David from this most unusual confab, but every time David would wave them away. When Phil threatened to light up indoors, David led him outside, where they remained for over an hour. Standing there. Talking. Just the two of them.

Eventually, David and Phil said their goodbyes, and Phil joined me at the bar. “Hey, you know who that was?”

“Tell me,” I said.

Phil threw back a poorly made duck fart and replied, “That was the president of the whole damn channel.”

I smiled. “Well actually, he’s the CEO of the whole damn network.”

“Is that right?” said Phil. “Well, whatever. He seems like a nice guy. Kind of chatty, but his heart’s in the right place.”

Extraordinary. In the history of time, no one has ever described David Zaslav as “chatty.”

I guess it comes down to this. The world is desperate for authenticity. In business and in real life. In work and play. We crave it I think, because it’s in such short supply. Consequently, when we see it, we’ll wait for it. We’ll watch it on TV. We’ll stand in line for a chance to be near it. Fans, fishermen, CEO’s – we know authenticity when we see it, even if we’re not looking for it. And Phil Harris had it in spades.

Phil-and-Mike-cropI didn’t know Phil well enough to properly eulogize him. However, I knew him enough to like him, and more than enough to miss him. He was the real deal. Flawed, human, decent, kind, and totally authentic.

And one hell of a Captain.

Mike Rowe


Memorial – streamed live 4/30/10 at 6:30 P/9:30 ET: WEBCAST

  • Terri McMahon

    I love Mike Rowe and Capt. Phil – 2 class acts. Mike you did an awesome job with After The Catch shows and with the Capt. Phil Tribute. Capt. Phil will be greatly missed! Great Job Mike! We will still be tuning in every Tuesday night. The down to earth, honest everyday working people are the best kind! Hats off to the Discovery Crew also!!!

  • Jason

    Perfectly said Mike. I’ve watched the show from the beginning and when Phil passed I felt as if I had lost a member of my own family. It’s amazing how a person can feel that way and have never met the person they miss. That, to me, speaks loads to the kind of man Phil Harris was. He will be missed!

  • Saundra L Mahana

    Thanks for sharing these private moments with Phil. I don’t know anyone else who could have done it better. How fortunate to have been able to develope a relationship, however small, and then be generous enough to share it with those of us who were only able to know Phil through tv. No matter, I learned to love him and I mourned his passing as deeply as I have mourned many in my own family. Granted, perhaps not for as long but ever so deeply do I miss this man.

  • pdrod

    This season was very hard to watch knowing in the end that we loss Capt. Phil Harris. I felt the loss of our beloved captain and a deep sadness and sorrow for Josh and Jake. Losing my own father was very hard and I know what the boys are going though. It is going to be very hard to watch next season without Captain Phil. The tributes to the captain have been wonderful. Thanks for the memories shared.

  • Tamara Katzenberger

    That was a wonderful tribute. Phil Harris reminded us how to be better people. True and genuine. Thank you for sharing that with all of us.

  • Henry

    I say this with the highest of praise, you are the new Rod Serling.

  • carrie dauplaise

    Did you ever think to auction off the bird houses for charity? He had an unbelievable talent. If so, I will be one of those bidders. To his sons,we love you like you are our own sons. I myself had a dad who wasnt around much in my younger part of life, but at least your dad made up for it ten fold and you have sooo much video to always remember him by. Love from The Dauplaise Family Ware, Mass

  • George

    Mike………………..Great words about Phil. He was someone everyone should have had the chance to meet, and you and the Discovery Channel brought Phil into our homes and to us, giving us a chance to “meet” him. I think your style and voice-over delivery are very “special” and highlight why the show is so good. Your authenticity shows when you do After the Catch. Thanks

  • davidspears

    He was something else, that’s for sure he was the real deal. YES HE WAS!! I tell you this Mike as well as many others already have, your trueness, honesty, loyalty to the show and definitely to these HEROS of the OCEAN, made me as a 43yr. old man CRY. My wife and I really miss him. We both shed tears of pain and relief for PHIL. We totally enjoy and respect what not only these crews do but the crew that does the filming and editing (narrating!!!!) DO for the viewers and fans. With much respect thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!! Respectfully yours David and Rana Spears, South Shore, Ky.

  • Erv

    Hey, Mike. I didn’t know Phil, other than what I saw of him on the show, but it doesn’t surprise me that he was such a genuine person. There aren’t many of them out there in this world…or at least I should say, “We need more of them”.

    Not sure if you ever had the honor of meeting Ernie Harwell, voice of the Detroit Tigers for many years, but he was a lot like Phil; warm, personable, genuine to the core. I only share that example, because he is probably the only celebrity that struck me as Phil did.

    But do me a favor, Mike. Take a bow for the work you do, too. Dirty Jobs is hilarious, yet educational, and your narration for Deadliest Catch brings things into perspective for the viewer. Bravo, Sir.

    We’ll miss Captain Phil, but the Cornelia Marie will continue to search the Bering Sea for crab. I only hope Discovery keeps her crew on the show, at least for this season, so we know what comes of them.

    Thanks, Mike!

  • Victoria

    Too bad men this honest, genuine and admittedly flawed are so few and far between, inhabiting obscure places and only visible in the far reaches of the planet. Thank you, Discovery Channel, Mike Rowe and all crew and staff responsible for bringing these stories to the rest of us. We need more men like him. Like y’all. Especially in office.

  • Heather

    That was a very beautiful way of saying good-bye to someone that even though you didn’t know very well, it didn’t sound like it. While reading it, I though it gave me a different perspective, that you really did know Captain Harris until you said that “you really didn’t know him to give an eulogy,” I couldn’t tell you did a great job on this as well as everything you do. Thanks for the entertainment. :)



  • Mike

    There are many people I would love to have a beer with. The crew of the CM and Mike Rowe are very high on the list.

  • Melissa

    Mike this article was beautifully written. Having never met Phil it may seem to some strange for me to feel his loss, as if I had known him. Phil alway’s came across so genuine, and true. And people could totally relate to him. Hand’s down Phil was a stand up guy! who will be greatly missed by all Family, Friend’s, Fan’s,etc. What a tragic loss for us all. Just as You said “we know authenticity when we see it, what more can You say? R.I.P. Phil Harris

  • Paul DeBlasis

    Mike, Just want to say THANK YOU!!!

  • Barbara Lenci

    Mike, Thank you for sharing these special moments. People like Capt. Harris are so rare, and your insight as to what made him appeal to so many people, I think, was spot on.

  • Bobbie

    Beautifully said.

  • Kristen B

    Mike – well done! It’s so hard to try to put into words the passion and emotion associated with the passing of such an extraordinary individual. You did an amazing job though and are an absolute asset to the Discovery Channel! Watching these last few episodes of the Deadliest Catch have brought me to tears every time. Trying to live our lives the same way as before after the loss of someone who inspired such courage and brought so much joy will be impossible. We all will be forever changed and unified together in our grief. It had always been a dream of mine to work on the Cornelia Marie – just to prove a dainty girl from the south could kick some serious crab butt and bust ass with the rest of the crew. His passing will not be in vain as we loyal fans and now the rest of the world unite to support the entire fleet and the families we welcome into our homes weekly. Captain Phil – you are a national treasure and one of the first people I will seek out & enjoy IMMENSELY sharing a conversation with when we are all united again in Heaven. Stay strong Jake and Josh – your father taught you everything you need to know to continue to develop into the incredible men you are already becoming.

    R.I.P Captain Phil XOXOXOXO

  • Kurt

    Great job Mike, Capt Phil came across as the guy we love and despise at the same time. He knew his job & every job on the boat but also knew how to be a dad & a friend. I never had the pleasure of meeting Capt Phil but of all the Deadliest Catch Captains, he was the one who stuck with me the most (The Hilstrand brothers were tied for 2nd). Capt Phil will be missed but the show will go on (I hope).

  • Jennifer


    Just want to thank you for that amazing insight of Captain Phil. It brought my son’s and I to tears. We watch the show every week and all the reruns, it will be hard to watch next season with out captain Phil. But Thanks for helping with the closure to that chapter. WE WILL MISS YOU CAPTAIN!!!

  • Thomas Dobson

    That is a great story about Phil. I would have liked to have gotten the chance to meet him and drink a Duck Fart with him. I have watched every season of the show and Phil was the captain that I related to. I wish his boy’s and the crew of the Cornelia Marie the best of luck and hope everything works out for them.

  • Michael Moline

    Mike- Just found this page, basically just a Your the Man for your kind words. And to Capt. Phil’s family sorry for your loss Men of his caliber are few at anytime.

  • Greg

    Mike, as others have said, that was beautiful, articulate, personal and touching. I truly enjoyed reading it and commend you for writing this piece so well, and from the heart. It’s a cliche I know, but you really have a way of bringing things to life. I enjoy you very much on “Dirty Jobs” and as the host of “Deadliest Catch” and the “After the Catch” specials.

    I think you’ve done a tremendous job of facilitating the controlled chaos that comes with bringing such a group of alphas together.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks for what you do. Greg

  • Melissa

    Mike, I was in such shock when I heard that Phil had a stroke and then passed away. I must say that I cried as I watched this video. I never thought I would miss a person I never met or talked to, but I miss Phil. My whole family does. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings with all yours and Phil’s fans.

  • Cindy Coverdale-Kretzinger

    Dear Mike, I agree with you… having watched the show for years “I knew him enough to like him, and more than enough to miss him. He was the real deal. Flawed, human, decent, kind, and totally authentic.”

    I have total respect for all the captains and crews. My heart goes out to Jake & Josh. My husband Jim had a major stroke on Oct 12, 2009, only 4 months after we got married. He was only 49 and was not expected to live. His was similar to Phil’s, other than he did not get the massive brain swelling. But we had been prepared by the Dr’s to expect it. Fortunately, Jim survived. He beat many odds and continues to progress every day. He will however be disabled the rest of his life, but he still possess his memory, sense of humor, and magnificent personality. We are very lucky. We watched these last few episodes with extreme emotions. Many of the scenes took us back to Oct. I wanted to reach through he TV and hug the boys and let them know someone can totally relate and sincerely cares . Thank you and the entire network/crew for airing his catastrophe with grace and compassion. He will never be forgotten by his fans, and fans we will be eternally. Keep up the impressive work you do for all your shows. We are immense fans of yours as well. Please extend our blessings to Jake, Josh and the entire crew for continued health and tranquillty. Sincerely, Cindy & Jim K.

  • Kate Marxen

    My husband and I watch the show regularly, I am amazed at how well Phil took action when needed involving his sons. The last show where he has to deal with Jake and addiction was so like we humans…we want to get them away…then love the hell right out of them! He was a dad to love.
    Yep..the tears are real..we will truly miss him.
    I get teary eyed each and every time he is shown. Blessings to his family, you and the other captains and crews. Still watching, still loving….now I have to pick a new fav…shucks.

  • Shanon Sara

    You have a way with words, Mr. Rowe, and I believe you captured an essential facet of Mr. Harris’s personality, the part of him that made those blue eyes sparkle, his genuine charm.

    A well written and moving tribute. Thank you.

  • Craig Brown

    Mike, thank you. Capt Phil is missed and will be remembered always.

  • T. Conway

    Wow what a great story thank you for sharing it. Our world would be such a more wonderful place if we could have more genuinely, loving and caring people like Capt. Phil. My husband and I love Deadliest Catch and will miss Capt. Phil tremendously. We hope the show will be back next season to help remember the Capt Phil moments.

  • Heather

    Awesome story Mike, you were lucky enough to be in the presence of a good man like Phil Harris. He reminded me of my father, whom I lost years ago. I wish the best for his boys, the show, and you. Please have discovery keep people like Phil and the other captains and crews in our lives, the world could use closeness & authentic rawness of these men!!!! RIP Phil you are truly missed !!!!

  • James Heriot

    It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we lost the Captain. DC will never be the same without him.

    I hope his boys are doing okay.

    Good words Mike.

  • Joe Sites


    Thanks for the story. You are only one of many who were privilaged to meet Phil Harris. Just from watching Deadliest Catch and hearing many different stories about Phil, I wish I would have been able to meet him myself. Again, thanks for the story. Phil will not only be missed by his family and friends, but also all the fans of the show. He has touched so many lives and probably did not know it. Cherish the memmories of Phil that you have as we the fans will do.

  • keith

    That’s true about authenticity of people today. Most are rude and self centered. These people can play the role, but are typically transparent, shallow and follow trends. Phil was indeed authentic and passionate about what he was doing, whether family, fishing, bikes or building birdhouses. Reminds me of another guy lost too soon, Steve Irwin. Cheers guys.

  • Lori H-Smith

    I had read this article on Mike Rowe &our Capt.Phil Harris.I
    really do like this very much on him &it was with excellent
    taste.I do very much miss our Capt.Phil more than anyone will ever know. I’m also glad that my dear cousin JB Turner introduced me to this very brilliant,
    Gentleman! Yes!!Phil very much one of those I do know this personally. We had talked constantly on the phone for about 2
    yrs. before he passed away. I can say he was a Beautiful man inside out. I loved his ever so Golden Suave voice his wonderful smile & laugh. Yes!! we were very close on up to his passing.
    He is now in the Highest of the Heavens with God now.God Bless his Family& Friends. Love always,Lori H-Smith He will forever be in my thoughts &
    heart every single day for the rest of mine days.

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