John Ritter, of TV's "Three's Company" and Broadway's Dinner Party, Dead at 54

Obituaries   John Ritter, of TV's "Three's Company" and Broadway's Dinner Party, Dead at 54
 
John Ritter, the bumbling and likable comic actor whose television career stretched from the 1970's hit "Three's Company" to the new sitcom "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," and who starred in the 2000 Broadway hit The Dinner Party, died suddenly in Los Angeles on Sept. 11, AP reported.
John Ritter in Dinner Party.
John Ritter in Dinner Party. Photo by Joan Marcus

Mr. Ritter was taping an episode for "8 Simple Rules," a 2002 hit for ABC, when he collapsed. He was taken to the nearby Burbank hospital Providence St. Joseph. A publicist said he died from a "dissection of the aorta," the result of an unrecognized flow in the main artery from the heart. He was 54.

The actor made his Broadway debut in Neil Simon's comedy The Dinner Party in the fall of 2000. The show, Simon's 31st play, was set at an upscale gourmet restaurant in Paris, where a party is being thrown by a well- known divorce lawyer. Two tuxedoed strangers meet, and are joined by a third, confused guest. Ex-wives soon enter the mix and reveal the reasons for the mysterious get-together. The show became a popular favorite, running through the 2000-01 season. Prior to the Broadway run, Mr. Ritter starred in a Mark Taper Forum production of the play.

Mr. Ritter continued his stage work in 2002, starring in J for J at the Court Theatre in Los Angeles.

Still, the actor was overwhelmingly identified with his work in television sitcoms, the first and most successful being the prototypical 1970s sex farce, "Three's Company." He played the appropriately named Jack Tripper (slapstick physicality was the hallmark of his comedic style), a swinging bachelor who poses as a gay man in order to be allowed to share an apartment with two young and attractive women (played by Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt). The weekly plots typically revolved around Jack's attempts to trick the girls into bed while simultaneously convincing the snoopy landlord Mr. Roper that he prefers men. The show ran until 1984.

A second series, "Hooperman," starred Mr. Ritter as Harry Hooperman, a San Francisco detective. Produced by Stephen Bochco, it was a more dramatic vehicle than usual for the performer. It ran for two seasons. "8 Simple Rules" was his first successful television series since then. He also played the role of Andrew Covington on "Felicity" and put in countless guest appearances on dozens of television series over three decades. His films were less successful than his television efforts. Among his credits were "Problem Child," "Noises Off," "Skin Deep" and "North." In "Sling Blade," he played against type, turning in a credible dramatic performance as a sensitive gay man trying to protect a woman from her brutal boyfriend.

Mr. Ritter was born on Sept. 17, 1948, the son of the country singing legend Tex Ritter. He attended Hollywood High. A marriage to Nancy Morgan in 1977 produced the children Carly, Tyler and Jason and ended in divorce. He married Amy Yasbeck in 1999. Ironically, Sept. 11, the day Mr. Ritter died—a date now loaded with weighty significance—is the same date his and Ms. Yasbeck's daughter Stella was born in 1998.

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