‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Received a Standing Ovation During Her Last Public Appearance

by Jennifer Shea

“I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball died on April 26, 1989 in Los Angeles. But shortly before she passed away, she presented an award along with Bob Hope at the 61st annual Academy Awards telecast on March 29.

According to Variety, when she stepped onstage, Ball got an energetic standing ovation from the crowd. The trailblazing Hollywood star was “noticeably overwhelmed” by her reception.

Watch the standing ovation here:

Ball Died of Ruptured Abdominal Aorta

On April 26, 1989, the comedy legend was at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, recovering from a 6 ½-hour surgery to replace part of her aorta, when a portion of her aorta far from where the operation occurred suddenly ruptured. Ball experienced complete heart failure at 5 a.m. that morning.

“There was nothing to indicate this would happen,” hospital spokesman Ronald Wise told the Los Angeles Times then. “The heart itself apparently was not involved in Miss Ball’s sudden death.”

Still, by 1989, Ball had lived nearly three years longer than her late ex-husband and “I Love Lucy” co-star Desi Arnaz, who died in 1986 of lung cancer at age 69.

“After Lucy ended, I thought, ‘I’ll live a few more years and then I’ll die,’” Ball said in 1983. “I didn’t plan on living this long… Now I miss her.”

‘I Love Lucy’ Star Was the First Female Television Executive

Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960. In 1962, Ball bought out Arnaz’s interest in Desilu Productions, paying him $2.5 million for his shares. And in the process, Ball became the first woman to lead a major studio.

“I never wanted to be an executive, but when my marriage to Desi broke up after 19 years, I couldn’t just walk away from my obligations and say ‘forget it,’” Ball told the Times. “We were an institution. Life takes guts. If you don’t take chances, you’ll never bathe again because you might get dirty again.”

But while Ball would have a hand in some shrewd picks by the studio – such as “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek” – her daughter, Lucie Arnaz, later said that her mother never enjoyed the business side of Hollywood.

“My mother did not have a great business mind, didn’t want one, was not interested in that end of it at all,” Arnaz told Yahoo! Entertainment in 2019. “She wanted to play in the sandbox, period. She wanted to go to work and play those characters and have fun and do shows.”

Lucy loved the Hollywood sandbox, and, as that final Academy Awards appearance showed, the sandbox loved her back.