‘I Love Lucy’: What Were Desi Arnaz’s Final Words to Lucille Ball?

by Allison Hambrick

With the release of Being the Ricardos, the real-life love story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is on the minds of all I Love Lucy fans. We know how the iconic couple started and how their relationship crumbled. Unless there was more to their lives than what made it onto our screens.

While Arnaz and Ball divorced in 1960, that was not when their relationship ended. The last conversation between the two occurred on Nov. 30 1986. A date that would have been the couple’s 46th wedding anniversary. It was also two days before he died of lung cancer.

According to their daughter Lucie Arnaz, her father was too weak to hold the phone to his ear, so she couldn’t give her parents the privacy she felt they deserved.

“I started them off, like two kids on a first date,” Lucie said in the book, Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. “I couldn’t get out of the room. And he said, ‘I love you, too, honey. Good luck with your show.’”

While those last words were simple, the impact is meaningful. Arnaz and Ball’s careers were inextricably linked to their marriage. Ball got her start on a radio series called My Favorite Husband. However, it was I Love Lucy that catapulted her into superstardom.

Inspired by a vaudeville act the couple created, I Love Lucy was one of the most successful television shows of all time. It ran for over 100 episodes and is in syndication worldwide. The show was both the creation and the killer of Ball and Arnaz’s marriage. While Ball attributed the split to his drinking and cheating, Arnaz blamed the close working proximity.

Arnaz Accepted I Love Lucy Legacy

“I think one of the problems was that we were both working too hard and were together too much,” Arnaz reportedly said. “There was really no chance to be away from each other and let things cool off.” 

By the time of his death, Arnaz made peace with I Love Lucy being his mark on the world. His daughter’s statement on his passing said as much.

“I can say that he died with me in my arms and that we loved him so much,” Lucie Arnaz explained. “I can tell you not to smoke, and I can tell you that [he] would like to be remembered as the man who was responsible for Lucy. The ‘I’ in I Love Lucy. And that he loved all of you very much.”

Additionally, this legacy led to projects such as Being the Ricardos. Actor Javier Bardem was cast as Arnaz, while the role of Ball was played by Nicole Kidman. Bardem deeply respects Arnaz’s accomplishments.

“Playing him is really playing a person who set a precedent for changes that will be forever in the way that we understand TV, sitcoms,” said Bardem of his role. “The way that all of those sitcoms are made today, with three cameras, with an audience on set. I mean, he thought about all of those things, but at the same time, he was a great comedian, a great artist, a great musician.”

Being the Ricardos will be available to stream on Amazon Prime this month. All episodes of I Love Lucy are streaming on Hulu and Paramount+.