Desi Arnaz Jr. was famous before he was even born. His 1953 arrival was front-page news, as it coincided with his parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, having a baby on their top-rated sitcom, I Love Lucy. As he grew up in Hollywood, “my whole life was in the face of the world,” Desi Jr. reveals in Closer Weekly‘s latest issue, on newsstands now. “No matter what we did or said ended up somewhere in the press or media. I didn’t really know who I was.”
His early life at home was far from the picture of prime time perfection. “Lucy and Desi were both very volatile and passionate,” Keith Thibodeaux, who played their son, Little Ricky, on I Love Lucy and became Desi Jr.’s real-life friend, tells Closer. “They had terrible fights, and that affected him.”
After Lucy and Desi divorced in 1960, Desi Jr. tried to make a name for himself as a singer, forming the band Dino, Desi & Billy with Dean Martin’s son Dino and pal Billy Hinsche, and even scoring a couple of hits. “I would go on tour with them and Desi Jr. was just a crack-up,” Dino’s sister Deana Martin dishes.
“He was funny, could play the drums and was a good singer,” she adds. He also acted with his sister, Lucie Arnaz, on their mom’s sitcom Here’s Lucy from 1968 to 1974. But Desi Jr. still felt empty inside, and he tried to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. “I was destroying myself,” he confesses. “I got tired of being me.”
Desi Jr.’s substance abuse took a toll on his parents as well. “I can’t tell you how much his addiction hurt us,” Lucy once said. “I tried to listen. I tried to be understanding. I tried to be tough and strong. It tore me apart.”
Finally, Desi Jr. went to rehab and cleaned up his act. “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 Jr. admits. “They were very supportive, and I think they were helped tremendously by what happened to me.”
After high-profile romances with older women Patty Duke and Liza Minnelli and a short-lived marriage to actress Linda Purl, Desi Jr. settled down with wife Amy in 1987. They met at the New Life spiritual retreat in Boulder City, Nevada. “They were skipping down the aisle holding hands” at the wedding, says Deana. “It was a beautiful ceremony.”
Desi Jr. also became a doting father to Amy’s daughter, Haley, whom he adopted. “He was absolutely a great dad,” says Deana. “He had such an odd upbringing — that made him more aware of being a part of his kid’s life.”
Tragically, Amy died of cancer at 63 in 2015. “She was very loving and special, a rock who kept things solid,” says Desi Jr. These days, he lives a quiet life far from the spotlight. “I’m fine,” Desi Jr. insists. “I’m trying to make each day better not only for myself but for others, too.”
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