Deadliest Catch star Phil Harris died on Tuesday after suffering a stroke while captaining his Cornelia Marie crab fishing vessel late last month.  He was 53.

"It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our dad - Captain Phil Harris," Harris' sons Jake and Josh Harris announced in a statement released late Tuesday night. 

"Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end.  For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down.  We will remember and celebrate that strength.  Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers."

Harris had suffered the stroke while the Cornelia Marie was docked on St. Paul Island in Alaska and off-loading on January 29.  He was airlifted to Anchorage where he underwent 12 hours of surgery the following day and was then put in a medically induced coma to reduce brain swelling, but had exited the coma and begun to show signs of recovery early last week.

In addition to being able to squeeze their hands, Jake and Josh -- who worked alongside Harris as Cornelia Marie deckhands -- had also said their father had begun to bark salty orders at hospital staffers good-naturedly.

Harris had subsequently continued to improve throughout the week.

"Capt. Phil was talking to friends and family today; showing his greatest progress since he suffered a massive stroke one week ago," the Cornelia Marie had announced in a statement released on its website on Saturday.

Harris' stroke was his second life-threatening illness in the last two years. 

Deadliest Catch's fourth season had included coverage of Harris suffering a near-fatal blood clot while the Cornelia Marie was at sea during the 2008 opilio crab season.  The incident kept him from returning to sea until the 2009 season began 11 months later in January 2009.

"So far so good.  They think the blood clot that was in my leg ate itself up or diminished but you have to watch [things] all the time now," Harris said during the show's 2009 After the Catch reunion program.  "The odds are that I said have died right on the boat.  I was really lucky.  I just didn't realize how lucky."

Since the Cornelia Marie is currently in the middle of the 2010 opilio crab fishing season -- which will be seen on Deadliest Catch's sixth season later this year -- the vessel had resumed fishing with Derek Ray, a family friend, replacing Harris as a relief captain.

"Discovery mourns the loss of dear friend and colleague Captain Phil Harris," Discovery Channel said in a statement.

"He was more than someone on our television screen.  Phil was a devoted father and loyal friend to all who knew him.  We will miss his straightforward honesty, wicked sense of humor and enormous heart.  We share our tremendous sadness over this loss with the millions of viewers who followed Phil's every move.  We send our thoughts and prayers to Phil's sons Josh and Jake and the Cornelia Marie crew."