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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

  • Beth

    Deadliest Catch was and still is my favorite show. I was saddened by the death of Captain Phil Harris. I love the name of the boat…I have a grandmother named Cornelia and a sister with the name Marie. I would have liked to have the chance to meet Capt. Harris, he seemed to be a really genuine guy. Prayers to Josh, Jake and the rest of the family.

  • Brenda

    Brilliant and moving!!!!! Thank you from my heart.

  • Matt Tremblay

    Mike you are one of those authentic true people that you describe in Captain Phil….thank you so much for sharing that story of Phil with all of us and thank you for everything you do in TV and in the real world. Hopefully one day when your in my neck of the woods I can meet you and your crew and shake your hand! Thanks Mike!

    Matt Tremblay

    Niagara Falls, Canada

  • page

    Your right Mike,hold on let me wipe the tears off my face,He was genuine we do seek it because it is rare,Captin Phil is definitly missed.

  • Matthew Bentley

    Thanks, Mike. As a longtime fan of the show, it truly pained me to learn of Phil’s passing. He was truly an example of what’s right in the world to me. Nowhere near perfect, but by damn doing the best with what he had. The Real Deal. As a career soldier with 21 years of service, I’ve come across a few captain Phils…and regretted leaving their company each time. I sincerely hope his family and the Cornelia Marie will keep their fishing business together. Even having never met the man, I feel he definitely wouldn’t have wanted them to quit.

  • Rick Gullen

    Great story Mike, thanks for sharing that with us and for your insightful comments. When reading your conversation with Phil it plays in my head with both of your actual voices. That is authenticity. Nice job!

  • slayden davis

    Amazing read buddy! dropped a few tears on this one.

  • bruce

    thanks mike for sharing. he was a true blue american . who carried his emotions on his sleeve. and like you said authentic as they come . maybe that’s why we all loved him so much.. god bless

  • Elizabeth

    I have loved BOTH Shows for many years and Mike…you have done some of the nastiest, ugliest jobs known to man….and yet out of your mouth comes what has to be the most beautiful, loving words ever written.

    “”He was the real deal. Flawed, human, decent, kind, and totally authentic.”””

    No truer words were every spoken, except that he will always be missed and his family will always be in our hearts.

    **SAIL ON CAPT. PHIL…for we will meet again**

    And thank you MIKE…for wearing your heart on your sleeve…

  • Kenna

    I only know CPT Phil from the Deadliest Catch (which btw is my favorite show) and I have to say it feels weird to know only say this but to also feel it… but I feel like I have lost a family member of my own. Maybe even more so than that.. everytime I see a picture of him or Josh & Jake my heart breaks over and over and I tear up. I will really miss Phil.. and I didn’t even know him. I wonder if he knew how much of an impact he truly had.

  • Melissa Knox

    I have been dreading this coming week (the episodes leading up to Phil’s collapse) – it’s strange to think how a life so far removed from most of our day to day routine can have such an effect on people. Sitting in my office in Dallas, Texas, I cried when I heard the news of Phil’s passing earlier in the year. Having worked in film production, I can only imagine the scene with the network CEO. That pretty much sums it up for me.

    Great job, Mike. We appreciate all that you do. Best of luck to the captains and crews. Be safe.

  • Dave


    You have uncanny eloquence in everything you say an do. For not knowing phil “enough to properly eulogize him”, you did a pretty damn good job. I had a hard time understanding why i liked Phil’s salty character so much. You summed it up for me when you called him authentic … the real deal.

    I just watched one of the last episodes where Phil was basically disowning his son for stealing his pain medication. I was a bit disillusioned with Phil, until his son confided with him that he had a drug problem. Like a true father Phil did a complete about face and volunteered to go with his son to rehab if that is what it took.

    I look forward to Tuesdays ephisode!

  • Kt H


    Thanks Mike for that touching tribute. The one thing I noticed with Capt Phil that came across to me was his good heart and character. I think all the Captains on Deadly Catch have shown us how character is so vital in one’s life. I see it in your show, Dirty Jobs also. You bring awareness that life is more than accumulating things. The journey may be difficult and challenging, but if you can call the shots, it is your life. Regardless of the occupation, your contribution to a better way to live for others is significant. Thanks again for sharing your memories with us.

  • David

    Phil Harris was a class act as are you.

    He was the real deal, It is very sad

    He is gone.

  • Sheila O


    Were you able to visit Phil while he was in the hospital? He was always my favorite. I will be sure to stock up on kleenex for next weeks show.

  • Melissa Knox

    Tonight’s tribute was very difficult to watch – hats off to a respectful show. I do have to say, however, the beer in the pitcher was bugging me (After the Catch)…I got the fact you needed the sponsor up front and visible, however, it didn’t appear many people were drinking it! :-) Ah, the joys of production! So I raise *my* glass to you, the crews, and the captain. Here’s to a successful season.

  • Sara Wickham

    Thank you Mike. Thank you for speaking so highly of Phil. I have been watching you and the guys for a while now and it’s funny how I feel like I’m part of the discovery family. I hope Phil and his family know how many people across America, and the world, are going to miss their father and their friend.

    Keep up the good work Discovery family.

  • Maureen

    Dear Mike,

    I had to come back to your excellent story of Phil at the convention with the Discovery Channel CEO to close out the Captain Phil Harris memorial night.

    Again, what a superb story, and how well you told it. Thank you.

    Tonight the love shown between a father and his sons will be in my mind for a long time to come. Sleep well, raspy, gutsy Captain with a heart of gold.

  • Pingback: Lucas County Choppers » Blog Archive » RIP Phil Harris

  • RAM

    Gonna miss you Capt. May you have good fishing, full pots, calm seas and a fair wind at your back.

  • Bob Jones

    Mike, you’re a bit of a legend yourself, and Phil was definitely a star! We’re going to miss him, and the saying “It’s all over but the shouting” certainly isn’t true, because Phil left a legacy of honour and honesty that is hard to find anywhere. Mike, thanks for the eulogy, keep on doing what you’re doing…..do us all a favour plese…and they may have already done it, I’m on the highway hauling flatbed out of Canada into Texas…..please ask if they’ll include a tribute to Phil at the beginning of every episode of Most Dangerous Catch…we’d appreciate it…thanks..Bob Jones…always looking for adventure!

  • Turk

    I’ve been a fan of Deadliest Catch since the first season, and therefore a fan of Captain Phil for just as long. He’s certainly a person I wish I’d had the chance to meet – although the show does a wonderful job of making one feel as if they know the fishermen personally. Deadliest Catch has been a perfect fit to capture not only Captain Phil’s larger than life personality but also his “tender” side – particularly his love and concern for his sons. That’s what made him so compelling to me.

    The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Rest in peace, Captain Phil… you will be missed.

  • dona swenk

    Just want to say Mike that you could not have said it any better. When I first started watching the show it was because of you.. Then here came Phil, with that crass sense of humor of his…. His demeanor was like no other. He will be greatly missed on the show….

  • Kathy C.

    That was the BEST eulogy I have read. Straight from the heart. You did see the real Phil, whether you think so or not. You and Phil share something in common, the human aspect. You both are real, not fake, like some on TV. And Phil could see that. As we all can. You can not BS a real person. And Phil was as real as they come. As you are. Which is why Phil is loved and will long be remembered. And that same attitude is why you are loved and watched also. THANK YOU Mike, this was the best eulogy I have seen.

    Kathy in Florida

  • brian nugent


  • Tommy Futrell

    The world needs more Phil Harris like people in it. I didn’t know him but I will miss him.

  • Feleshia

    Capt. Phil and his boys were the main reason I’d rush home from work and turn on Deadliest Catch ! Capt Phil will always be in our heart forever! Best show on tv yet! I always thought Dale Earnhardt would be the last I’d say it about but God knows there will Never be another Capt. Phil again! My heart and prayers go out to the boys and their families and the crews I know Phil loved you all as family ! RIP Capt Phil!

  • Keith

    Mike, that was great. You said it all. We’ll miss him. Keep up the great work.

  • Valerie

    You know Phil is in heaven taking over the boat Jesus was on when He stated peace be still….and Phil is there yelling….bring it on!!!!!!!!!

  • Tommy B

    Damn Mike, that story was awesome!

  • Daphne Taylor

    Mike .. well said. IF there was ever a man worthy of authenticity it is Capt. Phil!

  • Rebecca

    Well said. Cheers.

  • Jennifer

    Wow, nicely put! I’ve watched this show from birth to death. As well as the reruns and still going.
    What a shame for such a great crew to lose such a powerful man in the fishermen’s world AND in ours… All of us here (in my world), in your world, and in the T.V. & internet worlds will surely miss you Captain Phil AND the intensity of a fisherman’s life, in the view of our own home. What a great program, so intense at times sitting on the edge of the couch watching the ice freeze up to 6 inches or more, or wondering if someone’s life would be lost in the upcoming storms, in the sea of the deep.
    I just wish I could have been that cloud above, overhanging, on that 2 hour conversation. ;o)
    R.I.P Captain Phil we loved you in life and we’ll continue to love you in death..

  • Lesli Park

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing.

  • dusti

    Love Captain Phil!! I will miss him on the show, wish I’d known him personally.

  • Rich

    Very nice Mike. I never met Phil, but he seemed like the real deal and will surely be missed by very many people.


  • Bill Wright

    Wow. I’m not the best putting my thoughts in words. you on thre other hand have said it all. thank you so much for helping me and others to know a great man even better. The world is a better place because of people like Phil and yourself.

  • Matt


    That was awesome, it gave me goose bumps!! The past weeks shows have been amazing and your coverage and empathy have help us all deal with our emotions!



  • Lauren Granillo

    Beautiful Mike – just beautiful…

  • Nick Sanchez

    Mike, That was so poignant and heartfelt. What you said about authenticity and Phil having it in spades was spot on. It was always a hoot watching Phil work his magic aboard the Cornelia Marie whether it was precision fishing the ‘Rockpile’ or agonizing over his son’s purchase of the flat screen TV with his credit card with the classic line “now you know why lions eat their young”.

    Phil was watchable because he was relatable. His heart was on his sleeve for the world to see on ‘Catch’. He would make you learn, laugh and ultimately cry when he passed away. I believe the world was a better place because of Phil. R.I.P.

  • Monica

    You made me cry… what a story…. what a skipper! We will all miss him…!!

  • Denise & Joe Stagner

    Thanks to all who produced the show. Mike Rowe brought more to our live with his tales. Capt was a honest hard working person. I got a chance to also sit with him for over and hour. Something I will never forget. I think that makes it even harder on you. He treated me like I was one of the family. Like my daughter was one of his kids. We all will truely miss this American Legend. Thank you all. Cant wait for Mike to start making some tours so we can sit with him.

  • Toban Rinehart

    That was a nice read, keep up the good work, Toban Rinehart/Malibu,Ca

  • Debbie


    Like countless others I can’t thank you enough for the honest and compassionate words you had for Phil Harris. As I read this article I keep thinking, ‘yes, right on the nose’ with phrase after phrase. Again, like thousands of others, I’ll miss the skipper, I’ve cried just like the others and pray for the boys as the others. I’m sure Josh and Jake have been told but I just want to say, they had an amazing father, they’re lucky to have loved him and to have his love, and especially lucky that someone came along, made a show about him, ( and the whole Deadliest Catch crew) and they have hours of video footage to show their kids one day what a unique, honest, caring and loving man he was. We’ll miss you Captain Phil!

  • Carrie Pyle

    I have been following the Catch series since the first episode. I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried as an adult, Mike Rowe, you added a digit.

    RIP Captain Phil, to say you will be missed is like saying Phoenix is warm in the summer. An understated response to a remarkable human being. ♥

  • Jaci Buntin

    Thanks for sharing this. You have a way of painting a wonderful picture of Captain Phil. My boyfriend and I have watched Deadliest Catch since the beginning and I always liked Phil. He reminds me of my dad, similar personalities and they somewhat look alike. One thing that makes them different is the love that he had for his kids. My father and I haven’t had a relationship in two and a half years. Every time I watched the show, I always wished that my dad could be even more like him. I hope I can have a closer relationship with him, just like Phil and his boys one day.

  • Hattie

    Thank you Mike, For saying it as only you can. He was a Great Father and Captain, as they all are or they wouldn’t be on the show. But Phil was an exception to the rule, as being a father he wanted his boys to be the men he knew they would be someday and I think what he instilled as ethics will in turn be passed on to their children, Capt Phil will be proud of his sons, for passing that great legacey on. Thank you Mike

  • KenM

    A man’s man. Damn, not many of them left. R.I.P. Sir.

  • Brenda Edwards

    Mike that one hell of a good way to say your thoughts and i could not said any better. I believe that we are all going to miss Phil and his smile. Your good bye brought me to tear. Capt Phil,We miss you and all Love you !!!!!

  • Capt. Rob

    Hell of a eulogy Mike.

    Not knowing him at all, it seems that Capt. Phil Harris was someone whose genuine, authentic attributes are apparent from the start.

    Hearing the stories of his life, none of them surprise me. After just a few episodes of the show, it was quite apparent that Phil was a good man at heart. Didn’t need to know him his whole life to see that.