Lucille Ball’s Son Desi Jr. Once Explained How His Mother Played Crucial Role in His Battle With Addiction

by Allison Hambrick
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Desi Arnaz Jr., son of “I Love Lucy” stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, detailed how his mother helped him recover from his alcoholism and drug addiction.

“Mom was a crucial part in my recovery,” said Arnaz. “She endured family-confrontation therapy with five other families. Mom talked about her feelings of guilt. ‘I keep thinking I should have been able to prevent your problems,’ she said. She described how scared she’d felt when she saw me destroying myself. Suddenly, I saw how much I hurt her. I realized I wasn’t separate or isolated.”

While his mother was a big support to him, she wasn’t alone. Desi Jr. was also supported by Desi Sr. and his sister, Lucie Arnaz. Though Desi Sr. never stayed on the path of recovery himself, he went through all of the motions to get his son the help he needed.

“He did the tremendous thing of going to the recovery center with Desi Jr. and saying, ‘I’m Desi, and I’m an alcoholic,’” Lucie remembered. “Oh, I cried. I have enormous pride that he could do that.”

The I Love Lucy stars cared immensely for their son, and Ball, in particular, made it a point to stand by him

“I can’t tell you how much his addiction hurt me, hurt us,” Ball said. “I tried to listen, I tried to be understanding, I tried to be tough and strong. It tore me apart.” 

As for what sent Desi Jr. down this path, the answer was simple I Love Lucy.

Desi Felt Inferior to I Love Lucy Counterpart

From before he was born, Desi Jr.’s life was on display for the world to see. His mother’s pregnancy was the first to be depicted on television. The episode of I Love Lucy when she gave birth aired the same night he was born. But while Desi Jr. was Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s baby, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo had Little Ricky, played by Keith Thibodeux.

“I can still remember watching the show when I was about three and wondering who was the baby with Mommy and Daddy,” Desi Jr. said. “When my parents said it was me, I was confused, because I knew it wasn’t.”

For a young boy with extremely famous parents, life was hard. He was constantly the subject of media attention, yet the face most people associated with his parents wasn’t his own.

“I had this identity problem, and it wasn’t helped by people calling me Little Ricky, a name I learned to despise,” the former child actor explained. “I remember wanting rather desperately to be better at something – anything – than the boy who played Little Ricky. For a while, it seemed as if everything in my life was connected to Little Ricky’s.”

Desi Jr. Recovered His Identity

Over the years, this identity crisis took its toll. Desi Jr. was unhappy with who he was, so he sought out was to feel better.

“My mother told me to be a ‘good boy,’” Desi Jr. explained. “But to have fun, to be creative, I convinced myself to get involved in drugs. When I would see doctors, they [would play] the game:  I give them money, they give me prescriptions.”  

Finally, after a divorce, Desi Jr. realized he had to make a change. The former child star said: “I was killing myself. Something was running my life calling itself identity, calling itself me which wasn’t me at all.”

He accepted help from his family, got better, and stayed better. Now, Desi Jr. embraces the legacy of I Love Lucy and no longer lives in its shadow.