‘I Love Lucy’: How Did Desi Arnaz Die?

by Suzanne Halliburton

Desi Arnaz was only 69 when he left this world. The I Love Lucy star and Lucille Ball’s first husband always enjoyed life. He often dictated the fun, beating his drum and leading a Conga line of impromptu dancing.

But his penchant for cigars from Arnaz’s home country of Cuba proved to be deadly. The I Love Lucy star died just after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 1986.

At the time of Arnaz’ death, Dr. Charles Campbell said the actor/band leader had been dealing with lung cancer for about a year.

″It was from smoking those Cuban cigars; that’s the truth,″ Campbell told the Los Angeles Times about the beloved I Love Lucy star.

Arnaz had been near death a few years before his cancer diagnosis. The LA Times said Desi Arnaz also suffered from diverticulitis. That’s an inflammation of the intestines. He was hospitalized in 1981 because of the illness. And he had four operations to treat the illness in 1969-70.

Arnaz died at his home near San Diego. His daughter, Lucie, who was his oldest child, was at his bedside when her father passed away. Desi Jr. was en route to the house to tell his father good bye.

The I Love Lucy Stars Fell In Love Almost Immediately

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz fell immediately in love in 1940 on the set of the movie Too Many Girls. Ball was the young star, playing a woman in college. Arnaz was one of her football-playing bodyguards hired by her father. They eloped within months.

Eleven years later came the premiere of I Love Lucy. The show was unique in that it featured a handsome bandleader, who also was an immigrant from Cuba, married to a very funny redhead. By the time the show came on air, Lucy and Desi’s marriage already was on the rocks, but Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were in love. Lucille Ball filed for divorce in 1944, but the couple reconciled. She kept the marriage together until 1960, a year before I Love Lucy finished its final season.

However, the two were in business together. They also were the parents of two children and remained friends.

In the hours after Desi Arnaz died, Lucille Ball issued a statement about her former husband. She remarried in 1961 after she met comedian Gary Morton while appearing in the Broadway musical, Wildcat.

Ball’s statement said: “Mr. Arnaz had been ill with cancer for many months, and my family and I have been praying for his release from this terrible ordeal. Desi died early this morning in his daughter’s arms. Our relationship had remained very close, very amiable, over the years, and now I’m grateful to God that Desi’s suffering is over.”

Lucille Ball outlived Desi Arnaz by almost three years. She died in April 1989. Doctors performed surgery to repair a dissecting aortic aneurysm. However, eight days after her surgery, she died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. She was 77.