They met in 1981 when Susan first hosted SNL, and just six weeks later, they were married. Dick and Susan's family, which included Susan's two children from a previous marriage, quickly grew. They welcomed three sons—Charlie, Willie and, the baby of the family, Teddy—into the world.
After Teddy's birth in 1990, Susan put her acting career on hold and devoted her time to being a full-time mom. In November 2004, the tight-knit clan gathered together in California to celebrate Thanksgiving as a family.
Moments after takeoff, the plane carrying Dick, Charlie and Teddy came crashing down. Dick says their plane hit the ground at more than 100 miles an hour and then slid to a stop at the edge of a 60-foot cliff.
Charlie sprung into action as soon as the jet stopped moving. He spotted a tuft of his father's white hair sticking out from beneath a pile of rubble, dug him out and pulled him to safety. Charlie also tried to find his little brother, but before he could, the plane exploded.
Two days later, rescue crews found Teddy's body beneath the plane. Teddy and the two crew members who were also killed had been thrown from the plane on impact.
Dick remembers Teddy's last words very clearly. "He said, 'Dad, I'm scared,'" Dick says. "He didn't say it in a way that he was petrified—he just wanted to pass it on to me to solve it."
Before they found Teddy's body, Dick says Charlie "lived through hell" thinking he hadn't found his little brother inside the plane. "It wasn't until they found Teddy's body did [Charlie] know that he had done everything he possibly could do," Dick says.
The worst moment, Charlie remembers, came minutes after the plane exploded.
"What will be the worst moment in my entire life—I don't care what else happens—I had my cell phone on me, and I had to call my mom," Charlie says. "She was in the mountains, and I said, 'Mom, you've got to come back. The plane crashed. I got dad, but I can't find Ted, and I need you to help.' She was an hour away, and I remember thinking as I made the phone call, she's going to drive for an hour not knowing anything else but these three sentences I just told her."
"I just went," she says. "I just left—I left the crash. I left Teddy. I left everything, and I went. I said to somebody later, 'Why would I do that? Why wouldn't I go back to the crash and look for Teddy?' And they said, 'Because instinct is to follow the living—to go with the living.' And the minute I saw Dick he said, 'Teddy's gone. He's gone.' Even though I had held out hope."
Susan says that she always thought if she lost a child, she would "sit down in a chair and never talk again." But, now she says, it just doesn't work that way. In fact, within days of losing Teddy, Susan sat down with NBC's Tim Russert to talk about the tragic accident and thank people for their outpouring of support.
"All I could think [was], 'People are going to be so sad for me,'" Susan says. "You want to make them feel better. It's exhausting sometimes, actually in the early months, because you are trying to make everybody feel better. And then people will say to you, 'What are you doing for you? Now I know you've taken care of your kids and your husband and your life, but what are you doing for Susan?' You know, that isn't even in the nature of a mother."
Susan says she considers her support and encouragement of Teddy over the last three years the greatest accomplishment of her life. "He knew how we felt," she says, "[We would tell him], 'Look what you've done with your life, [what] you've achieved! You're such a happy guy now. You're doing so well!"
"Usually, [as a parent,] you'll go play a video game with your kid so you can get into what they're thinking about," Susan says. "But it's not that often where a 14-year-old will try to get really up to speed with something that would put him in the language of his dad."
The Ebersols continue to try to focus on Teddy's life, not his death. "It would suck to think of him as a tragic loss," Willie says. "No one wants to be remembered that way. You need to celebrate people's lives."
Teddy's family treasures the writings he left behind. A cherished keepsake is the 37-page autobiography Teddy wrote as an eighth grader. On Teddy's computer, his parents found more beautifully written prose, including one moving story loosely based on a family ski vacation. In it, Teddy touchingly describes being helped down the mountain by his brother: "The shooshing of [Willie's] skis," he wrote, was as if Willie "was pouring a bucket of love all over [me]."
"He was a philosopher," Susan says. At his eighth grade graduation, Teddy gave a speech that began with "an old saying" he had recently coined: "I follow, therefore I lead," he told his audience. Teddy ended his speech with more words of wisdom: "The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race."
"I thought it was the closest I'd ever been with [the family]," Charlie says. "The anniversary [day] was tough, but that week ... I never felt closer and happier to be with my family. We were all worried that it was going to be this miserable week, ... [but] it was a celebration."
"Out of all of this horror, one incredible thing happened," Dick says. "Susan gave everybody in our family this incredible release by saying that it was okay to cry, it was okay to be sad if we wanted to be the rest of our lives—but we weren't going to be bitter, we weren't going to be angry, we weren't going to be mad."
Coming together against feelings of anger, the family feels united in their effort to support and encourage one another after the tragedy. Charlie says he now calls his family before any flight. "Willie asks me one question," Charlie says. "He says, 'Are you happy?' And if I say yes, then I'm okay to fly."