Lucille Ball, 77, television's most enduring comedian whose madcap escapades as Lucy Ricardo made the "I Love Lucy" show one of the most popular in television history, died yesterday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, one week after undergoing emergency heart surgery. Doctors said she died of a ruptured abdominal artery, a condition unrelated to the surgery. With her husband, Desi Arnaz, Miss Ball designed, produced and starred in "I Love Lucy," which from 1951 through 1957 dominated the Nielsen ratings as few television productions have done since. It was rated first four times, second once and third once. Filmed reruns, which were telecast in more than 75 foreign countries, remain popular more than 30 years later. Television was in its formative years when the first episode of "I Love Lucy" went on the air on Oct. 15, 1951, and the series would later become the prototype of the situation comedy. It became a Monday night ritual for millions of Americans who tuned to CBS for the latest episode in which Miss Ball, cast as the zany wife of rumba band leader Ricky Ricardo, seemed to be hatching one wacky scheme after another. Miss Ball also starred in two other television series, "The Lucy Show," which began in 1962, and "Here's Lucy," a redesigned version, which was first telecast in 1968, and in several television specials. When "Here's Lucy" went off the air in 1974, TV Guide magazine reported that Miss Ball's face had been seen "by more people more often than the face of any other human being who ever lived." While praised by critics as a gifted and talented comic with a keen sense of timing, a high degree of energy and a capacity for hard work, Miss Ball was also a shrewd businesswoman. With Arnaz she formed a company, Desilu Productions, on a $5,000 investment in 1951 to produce "I Love Lucy." In 1957 Desilu purchased RKO Studios and began producing other programs. When Arnaz and Miss Ball divorced in 1960, they sold their interest in the "I Love Lucy" films to CBS for $6 million. She acquired his share of Desilu, which by then was producing such shows as "The Untouchables" and the "Ann Sothern Show," for $3 million. Desilu, under Miss Ball's direction, continued to produce television hits, including "Star Trek" and "Mission Impossible." In 1967, Gulf and Western Industries bought the company for $17 million. Miss Ball was born in Jamestown, N.Y. Her father was an electrician and her mother a concert pianist. As a child she loved vaudeville shows and movies but failed abysmally when she enrolled in an acting school in New York at the age of 15. She returned to high school in Jamestown, but later went back to New York, where she became a model, gaining nationwide exposure as the Chesterfield Cigarette Girl. Those advertisements caught the attention of film studio executives, and in 1933 Miss Ball moved to Hollywood, where during the next 18 months she had unbilled parts in 10 films. She would eventually appear in such movies as "Follow the Fleet" (1936), with Fred Astaire; "Stage Door" (1937), with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers; and "Room Service" (1938), with the Marx Brothers. In 1940 while playing the ingenue lead in a musical, "Too Many Girls," Miss Ball met Arnaz, who was cast as a Cuban football player. They were married six months later. In all, Miss Ball appeared in more than 75 movies and it was in those roles that her fiery red hair became one of her trademarks. But most of them were mediocre productions, and in 1947 she accepted a role in a CBS radio show, "My Favorite Husband," in which she was cast as the scatterbrained wife of a Midwestern banker. With Arnaz she became intrigued with the idea of trying a version of that show on the new medium of television, but the executives at CBS doubted that a comedy team of an American redhead and a Cuban band leader with a marked accent would attract viewing audiences. So Miss Ball and Arnaz formed their own company, took their act on a nationwide road tour and produced a pilot film for the series that impressed the CBS executives, who gave "I Love Lucy" a berth on the 1951 fall schedule. Miss Ball played the part of the band leader's irrepressible wife, Lucy, and many episodes in the series consisted of her hare-brained schemes to prove to her husband that she, too, belonged in show business. The series was set in their Manhattan apartment where their best friends and landlords were Fred and Ethel Mertz, and it generally turned out that Ethel became Lucy's partner in mischief while Fred shared the burden of their wives' foolishness with Ricky Ricardo, played by Arnaz. It drew an audience of 40 million a week for such escapades as Lucy's being trapped in a vat of laundry starch or locked in a meat freezer, lost on a subway with a loving cup stuck on her head or disguised as a ballerina, matador, Hindu maharani, grape stomper or toothless hillbilly. When Miss Ball became pregnant with Desi Arnaz Jr., the pregnancy was incorporated into the "I Love Lucy" plot. The television birth of "Little Ricky" occurred on Jan. 19, 1953, and it was watched by 44 million Americans, which was more than watched the televised inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower the next day. "I love Lucy," Miss Ball admitted in a 1981 interview with The Los Angeles Times. "There were two key qualities to her. She was always in financial trouble. If she wanted a fur collar, a ratty little fur collar, she had to figure out a way to make some extra money to get it . . . that's universal. And she always had a domineering figure over her . . . . Lucy was always knocking somebody's top hat off." After her divorce from Arnaz, who died in 1986, Miss Ball married comic Gary Morton in 1961. He became her executive producer. She appeared in a Broadway musical, "Wildcat," then returned to television in 1962 with "The Lucy Show," in which she played the widowed Lucy Carmichael. The show lacked Arnaz, and it never achieved the popularity of "I Love Lucy," but it included the same type of slapstick clowning. In "Here's Lucy," Miss Ball was another widow, Lucy Carter, who supported herself and two children by working in a zany unemployment office. She tried one more television comedy, "Life with Lucy," on ABC in 1986, but the show drew poor ratings and was canceled within months. Miss Ball also appeared in the title role in the movie version of "Mame," in 1974, and played a New York bag lady in a 1985 CBS-TV movie "Stone Pillow," drawing mixed reviews for each performance. Former president Reagan, in a formal statement yesterday, called Miss Ball "a gifted comedienne who brought laughter to millions the world over . . . . Her antics on the screen, her timing and her zest for life made her an American institution. Just the mention of her name brings a smile." Survivors include her husband, Gary Morton, and two children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.