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Tracy Nelson
Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for TCM

Tracy Nelson

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Tracy Nelson is an actress and the oldest child of songwriter and actor Ricky Nelson and his wife, actress Kristin Harmon.

Who Is Tracy Nelson?

Tracy Nelson's breakout role came when she was cast opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in the sitcom Square Pegs. She later went on to make guest appearances on 1980s shows such as St. Elsewhere and Family Ties. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Nelson went through treatment and the cancer went into remission, and she subsequently starred as Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski in the Father Dowling Mysteries series.

Early Life and Family

Tracy Nelson was born on October 25, 1963, in Santa Monica, California, into a famous showbiz family. Nelson was the oldest of four children born to the singer, songwriter and actor Ricky Nelson and his wife, actress Kristin Harmon. Her paternal grandparents were the famous singing-and-acting duo Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, while her maternal grandparents were football star and sportscaster Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox. The family performing tradition carried into Tracy's generation. Her younger brothers Matthew and Gunnar were musicians who formed the band Nelson, and her youngest brother Sam became a musician and music executive. Tracy Nelson also caught the performing bug early, appearing opposite Lucille Ball in the Henry Fonda film Yours, Mine and Ours before her 5th birthday.

Nelson's parents married in April 1963, before 400 guests in a large Catholic ceremony. The marriage was rocky, with both Ricky and Kristin accusing each other of affairs and substance abuse. Nelson fought frequently with her mother and lived at her father's house as a teenager. Her parents finally divorced in 1982.

Breakthrough Role

After graduating from Los Angeles' Westlake School for Girls in 1981, Nelson briefly attended Bard College. She dropped out in 1982 after being cast opposite Parker in the sitcom Square Pegs. Her snooty, popular Valley Girl character Jennifer DiNuccio was a hit with viewers. Nelson later went on to make guest appearances on 1980s shows such as St. Elsewhere, Family Ties and The Love Boat. She also starred in the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

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Personal Tragedy and Cancer Diagnosis

Tragedy struck the Nelson family on December 31, 1985, when Ricky Nelson was killed in a plane crash. The accident, which occurred in De Kalb, Texas, also killed Nelson's girlfriend and fellow band members. Two years later, at the age of 23, Nelson married actor Billy Moses of the popular soap opera Falcon Crest. Shortly after her wedding, Nelson began feeling weak and ill. She then had a dream in which, she later recalled, "My father called me on the phone and said, 'I know you miss me, but it's not time for you to die. You have to go see a doctor.'"

A biopsy in December 1987 revealed a malignant grapefruit-sized tumor in her chest. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer. She blamed the illness on the stress of her father's death and an ugly family battle between her mother and uncle over custody of her youngest brother.

To make matters worse, her husband's father was diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer at the same time. Nelson underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove parts of her liver and lymph nodes, then endured months of grueling chemotherapy that caused her weight to drop to 87 pounds. Within six months of her diagnosis, the cancer went into remission.

Through it all, Nelson continued to work. During her illness and treatment, she starred as Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski in the Father Dowling Mysteries series.She also starred and guest-starred in television shows such as Perry Mason and Melrose Place. Despite fears that her radiation treatments may have rendered her sterile, Nelson gave birth to a daughter, named Remington, in August 1992.

Personal Life

Nelson and husband Billy Moses divorced in 1997, and share custody of their daughter. In 2001, Nelson had a second child, Elijah Nelson Clark, with boyfriend Chris Clark. Despite the multiple challenges she has faced in life, Nelson is determined to come out a better person for it. "Things happen for a reason," she says, "and I believe I was given a chance to get stronger as a person."

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