- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003


LOS ANGELES — John Ritter, whose portrayal of the bumbling but lovable Jack Tripper helped make the madcap comedy series “Three’s Company” a success decades ago, died of a heart problem after falling ill on the set of his new TV sitcom. He was 54.

Mr. Ritter became ill Thursday night while working on ABC’s “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” said Susan Wilcox, his assistant of 22 years. The show became Mr. Ritter’s TV comeback vehicle.

He died at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, six days before his 55th birthday. The cause of death was a tear in the aorta, the result of an unrecognized flaw in his heart, said his publicist, Lisa Kasteler.

“It’s just stunning, unbelievable,” Miss Wilcox said. “Everybody loved John Ritter. Everybody loved working with him. … Whatever set he was working on, he made it a very fun place.”

Mr. Ritter, youngest son of Western film star and country musician Tex Ritter and actress Dorothy Fay, came to prominence for his role in “Three’s Company” and had appeared in more than 25 television movies, a number of films and on Broadway.

He made his successful return to sitcom acting last year with “8 Simple Rules. …” The show was scheduled to begin its second season Sept. 23.

At the Burbank hospital where he died, Mr. Ritter was accompanied by producers and co-workers, his wife, Amy Yasbeck, and 23-year-old son Jason, Miss Wilcox said. He is also survived by three other children.

ABC released a statement saying: “All of us at ABC, Touchstone Television and the Walt Disney Company are shocked and heartbroken at the terrible news of John’s passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and children at this very difficult time.”

Mr. Ritter graduated from Hollywood High School and earned a degree in drama from the University of Southern California.

“I was the class clown, but I was also student body president in high school,” he told the Associated Press in a 1992 interview. “I had my serious side — I idolized Bobby Kennedy, he was my role model. But so was Jerry Lewis.”

“Three’s Company,” about a bachelor sharing an apartment with two attractive women, played by Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt, was considered daring during its run from 1977 to 1984. And Mr. Ritter worried about falling into a typecasting trap after the show ended.

“I would get scripts about ‘a young swinging bachelor on the make,’ and I said ‘No, I’ve done that,’” he told the AP in a 1992 interview. “Or they’d say, ‘You’re living alone and. …’”

Mr. Ritter won popularity among independent film directors in recent years and appeared in films including “Tadpole” in 2002, and the new feature “Manhood.” Other performances included 1996’s Oscar-winning movie “Sling Blade” and a Broadway run in Neil Simon’s “The Dinner Party.” He appears alongside Billy Bob Thornton in the scheduled November release from Miramax “Bad Santa.”

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