Nelson came from a musical family. His Atlanta-born mother, Isabel Kendrick Eddy, was a church soloist, and his grandmother, Caroline Ackerman Kendrick, was a distinguished oratorio singer. His father, William Darius Eddy, occasionally moonlighted as a stagehand at the Providence Opera House, sang in the church choir, played the drums, and performed in local productions like H.M.S. Pinafore.
Nelson’s father was a machinist and toolmaker whose work required him to move from town to town. Nelson grew up in Providence and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and in new Bedford, Massachusetts. As a boy, he was a redhead and quickly acquired the nickname “Bricktop.” In later years his red hair was streaked with silver, so that his hair photographed as blond.
Eddy’s parents separated when Nelson was fourteen. The teenager moved with his mother to Philadelphia where her brother lived. Nelson’s uncle, Clark Kendrick, got him a clerical job at the Mott Iron Works, a plumbing supply company. But the restless, ambitious boy soon found work as a reporter with the Philadelphia Press, the Evening Public Ledger and the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. He also worked briefly as a copywriter at N.W. Ayer Advertising, but was let go for constantly singing on the job.
Eventually Eddy’s parents divorced, and his father remarried, fathering Nelson’s half-sister, Virginia, who was twenty-five years younger than Nelson. Nelson’s mother never remarried. She went with Nelson when he moved permanently to Hollywood, and lived with him until his marriage.
Eddy’s wife, Ann Denitz Franklin, was the former wife of noted director Sidney Franklin. Her son, Sidney Jr. became Eddy’s stepson, but Nelson and Ann had no children of their own. Ann Eddy never remarried after Nelson’s death, and died on August 28, 1987. She is buried next to Nelson and his mother in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.