‘I Love Lucy’: Here’s How Much ‘Fred Mertz’ Actor William Frawley’s Estate Totaled When He Died

by Matthew Wilson

When “I Love Lucy” actor William Frawley died in 1966, he left behind all of his assets and money he made from playing on the hit sitcom. Audiences remember Frawley for starring as Fred Mertz on the show.

At the time of his death, Frawley’s estate totaled around $92,446 (or  $749,069 adjusted for inflation). Towards the end of Frawley’s time on “I Love Lucy,” the actor was making around $7,500 a week for the role. Frawley also signed a residual deal with “I Love Lucy” creators Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. This meant they would pay Frawley in perpetuity for reruns of the show airing.

In the years after his death, Frawley’s estate continued to grow in wealth, due to the prevalence of “I Love Lucy” airing in syndication.

Prior to appearing on “I Love Lucy,” Frawley’s career was in decline. The actor didn’t have steady employment and was also divorced. He lived alone in Los Angeles when Desi Arnaz approached him for the role. Frawley ultimately landed a successful role on the show and part of TV history despite not being the first choice for Fred.

William Frawley and ‘I Love Lucy’

Frawley approached Arnaz about appearing on the show. By that point in his career, Frawley’s career had declined, and he wasn’t the hot commodity he had been a few decades prior. Many productions knew of the actor’s drinking problems, and Frawley garnered a reputation as being unreliable.

But Arnaz saw a bit of himself in Frawley, and the two managed to strike out a deal. As long as Frawley behaved himself, he would have employment on the show. But if the actor fell off the wagon, Arnaz wouldn’t just fire him, he would make sure no one else in Hollywood hired him again.

Fortunately, the arrangement worked out for both parties. Frawley appeared on both “I Love Lucy” and “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” for nine years. After that show ended, the actor moved onto “My Three Sons” during the 1960s. Frawley turned a memorable role on that sitcom as well.

But eventually, Frawley’s alcoholism and age caught up to him. He began experiencing health problems and struggling on the set of the show. Production eventually had to let the actor go after he failed an insurance exam. The actor passed away in 1966 after a heart attack. He left behind a catalog of work for future audiences to enjoy.