"Most people don't know that I am an accomplished dramatic actor. I have a play on Broadway now with Henry Winkler called Dinner Party. But I've performed in several Shakespeare productions including Hamlet, except in this version, Hamlet lives in an apartment with two women, and has to pretend he's gay so that the landlord won't evict him." - John Ritter, Late Night with Conan O'Brien's "Celebrity Secrets"
John Ritter is probably best known for his role of Jack Tripper
on the 1970s sitcom Three's Company
, but as an actor and entertainer Ritter's influence reached beyond inviting people to come and knock on his door. During his career he performed on television, movies, Broadway
, and made it his mission in life to entertain those around him. Born on September 17, 1948
to parents Tex Ritter
(a television cowboy) and Dorothy Southwoth
, John grew up in southern California and later went on to college to major in Psychology. By 1971, however, he had changed to the theater program and graduated with a degree in Theater Arts. His first roles in the entertainment industry were in several European stage performances (including Love Letters
and As You Like It
), but it wasn't until he returned to the USA that he found his place on television.
After appearing in small roles on popular fare such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ritter beat out fifty other actors in 1973 (including Billy Crystal) for the role of Jack Tripper on the ABC sitcom Three's Company. The series revolved around Ritter's character pretending to be gay in order to share an apartment with two attractive women (portrayed originally by Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt). Ritter made the series his own and though his co-stars came and went, he remained with the show until the end, even moving on to the spinoff bomb Three's A Crowd in 1984. Later television roles during this period included parts in Hooperman and Fish Police. The movie screen called for John in the 1980s as he moved on to Real Men, Stay Tuned, and the part of the father in the first two Problem Child films. He shed his comedy roots for drama in Sling Blade and moved back to Broadway for 2001's The Dinner Party. He continued to dabble in television with guest appearances on popular programs of the day (including Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which he played an evil android intent on marrying Buffy's mother in a dark interpretation of his Jack Tripper character).
In 2002 John returned to ABC for a new sitcom: 8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter. The series was the network's second most-popular scripted series for the season and the show was picked up for the 2003-04 season. Tragically, while filming the fourth episode of Season Two on September 12, 2003 John began to suffer from pains and later died shortly after of an undetected rupture of the aorta at the age of 54. He left behind four children (three from his first marriage and one from his second) and a legacy of entertainment that spans a number of genres and mediums. Farewell, John, and thanks for all the laughs.
ABC 20/20, September 12, 2003