Lucille Ball’s Son Desi Jr. Struggled With His Identity Due to ‘I Love Lucy’

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by KM Archive/Getty Images)

Newspapers wrote their first stories about Desi Arnaz Jr. before he was born. Reporters snapped photos of him in the crib and grilled his parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, about every aspect of his life. It didn’t let up, he said, and the stress gave him a serious identity crisis that took him years to resolve.

Desi Arnaz Jr. said one of his earliest memories was seeing his parents on television. They were taking care of another little boy on I Love Lucy that they told the world was him.

“I can still remember watching the show when I was about 3 and wondering who was the baby with mommy and daddy,” he told the authors of Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, according to Cheat Sheet. “When my parents said it was me, I was confused, because I knew it wasn’t. I had this identity problem, and it wasn’t helped by people calling me Little Ricky, a name I learned to despise. 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.”

Lucille Ball’s pregnancy with Desi Arnaz Jr. was a first for television as the show’s writers worked her pregnancy into the I Love Lucy storyline. His birth became national news. He and his mom were on the inaugural cover of TV Guide in 1953 when Arnaz was just 75 days old.

That pressure took its toll on him, he admits. He coped with it by using drugs and alcohol. He later told a psychiatrist that he “thought the drugs were helping” until it was too late.

Desi Arnaz Jr. On Getting Sober with His Parents’ Help

Desi Arnaz Jr. stumbled through addiction for 15 years before he got clean in the early 1980s. He said he realized he was “destroying” himself and checked himself into an intensive rehab program.

“Both my mother and my father were invited to come with me, and they did, which was probably the most amazing thing that could have happened,” Desi Arnaz Jr. said later. “They were very supportive, and I think they were helped tremendously by what happened to me.”

Arnaz Jr. said his parents were “crucial” in his recovery. Moreover, the therapy helped them deal with it as well, he said.

“Mom talked about her feelings of guilt.” Desi Jr. remembered. “‘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.”

He returned from rehab reborn. He married his wife, Amy, in 1987. They had a daughter together and lived a relatively quiet life together until Amy died of cancer in 2015.

Desi Arnaz Jr., 68, avoids the limelight, but he promised fans he’s doing OK.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m trying to make each day better not only for myself but for others, too.”