John Ritter was an amazing individual. Amazing in many ways; as an actor, a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a humanitarian and a friend. He genuinely cared about people, when you spoke with John he was truly interested in what you had to say. Kassie first met John fourteen years ago when she appeared on the United Cerebral Palsy telethon, which John hosted along with Henry Winkler and Nancy Dussault. Year after year Kassie appeared on the program and year after year John treated her with kindness and fun-loving respect. Kassie always maintained a soft spot in her heart for John even though she’d see him just once or twice a year. John graciously sat for an interview with the producers of “Give A Chance..a little girl’s journey" to discuss not only Kassie, but what life was like growing up with a brother (Tom Ritter) who had cerebral palsy. His insight was truly remarkable. When John sat with his wife, Amy, and watched the completed project, he called Kassie’s Mom and asked if he could do an on-camera introduction to the documentary. Arrangements were being made to accommodate his request when tragedy struck. On September 11, 2003 John complained of fatigue and chest pains during rehearsal for his hit ABC Television sit-com “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”. Fearing he was having a heart attack, John was transported to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, which is literally across the street from the studio where he was working. It wasn’t a heart attack doctors discovered a previously unrecognized heart abnormality, called an “aorta dissection” or tear in the main artery to the heart. John was rushed into an operating room, but surgeons could not save his life. He was just four days shy of his 55th birthday. The nation mourned, not at the loss of a celebrity, but at the loss of a friend.
Everybody knew John Ritter. Women were captivated by his good looks and boyish charm, and men envied the guy who figured out how to share an apartment with two beautiful young ladies namely Chrissy and Janet on the hit series ‘Three’s Company’. There may be a little bit of Jack Tripper’s panache in all of us.
John Ritter was born just a cab ride away from the Motion Picture and Television studios in Burbank, California that would eventually make him a star. The date was September 17th 1948; country music recording artist and actor Tex Ritter and his actress wife Dorothy Fay welcomed a son into this world and named him John. He joined older brother Tom in the Ritter household. Tom, it was discovered, had cerebral palsy, a condition that, in Tom’s case, had an impact on his walking. In later years both Tom and John would devote countless hours to raising awareness and money to help those with CP.
With his family background and an effervescent personality John was destined to become a celebrity He attended Hollywood High School and was elected student body president. Ritter went on to the University of Southern California where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theater Arts. Before graduating Ritter had already made TV guest appearances on “Hawaii Five-O, “Medical Center and “Dan August.” John had also appeared in stage plays through out Europe. Meanwhile, brother Tom followed a different career path and became an attorney.
The seventies saw John making occasional guest appearances on shows ranging from “The Waltons” to M*A*S*H, and from “The Bob Newhart Show” to “The Streets of San Francisco”. Then in the late seventies Ritter’s career exploded when he beat out more than four dozen actors for the role of Jack Tripper in the ABC Television series ‘Three’s Company”. The rest, as they say, is television history. John won an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actor In a Comedy Series for his portrayal of the Tripper, a struggling chef, who convinced the landlord he was gay in order to move into an apartment with two attractive young ladies. “Three’s Company” remained a TV favorite for years, but by 1984 it had run it’s course, and the show was cancelled. A spin-off, “Three’s A Crowd” went nowhere, but John’ career was still hot.
Acting wasn’t the only love in John’s life. He raised three children, Jason, Tyler and Carly with his first wife Nancy Morgan. Although that marriage resulted in a separation in 1993 and divorced in 1996, John maintained a strong relationship with his kids.
The late eighties and early nineties saw John continue to make his mark on the silver screen, starring in several films, including “Hooperman,” “Skin Deep,” and “Problem Child” to name a just a few. Ritter returned to his television roots in 1992 to star in the sit-com “Hearts Afire” playing a Senator’s aide. It was during the three-year life of this series that John became fast friends with series regular Billy Bob Thornton. A friendship that remained strong up until the last day of John’s life. When Billy Bob was putting the feature film “Sling Blade” together, he asked John to play a gay department store manager. Both John and Billy Bob received overwhelming critical praise for their performances in the film. Even with the big screen success, John’s affinity for television persevered. The turn of the century would see John nominated three times for daytime Emmy awards for his voice-over role of “Clifford” in the animated PBS series “Clifford the Big Red Dog”. John knew the significance of quality children’s programs, after all, he and wife Amy Yasbeck, had a new little love in their lives - a daughter named Stella, born in 1998. John and Amy had a remarkable marriage; they complimented each other constantly and had no difficulty making the other person laugh. They were made for each other and Stella was the apple of their eye.
2002 marked the beginning of a new television series for John, “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter”. The series struck a nerve with viewers, who could relate to the storylines, which highlighted the difficulties of raising teenagers today. The comedy was so well received that it garnered a “People’s Choice Award” for Best New Comedy of the year. Taping for the second season was underway in 2003, when the end came for John on that 9/11 day.
John Ritter still makes us laugh today but it’s sad to think that all we’ll ever get are re-runs.