John Ritter

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John Ritter
John Ritter at the 1988 Emmy Awards.jpg
Ritter at the 1988 Emmy Awards
BornJonathan Southworth Ritter[1]
(1948-09-17)September 17, 1948
Burbank, California, U.S.
DiedSeptember 11, 2003(2003-09-11) (aged 54)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Aortic dissection
EducationHollywood High School
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
OccupationActor, comedian, voice-over artist
Years active1968–2003
Notable work(s)Jack Tripper on Three's Company
Spouse(s)Nancy Morgan (m. 1977; div. 1996)
Amy Yasbeck (m. 1999–2003)
ChildrenJason Ritter
Tyler Ritter
Carly Ritter
Stella Ritter
ParentsTex Ritter
Dorothy Fay
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This article is about the American actor. For other uses, see John Ritter (disambiguation).
John Ritter
John Ritter at the 1988 Emmy Awards.jpg
Ritter at the 1988 Emmy Awards
BornJonathan Southworth Ritter[1]
(1948-09-17)September 17, 1948
Burbank, California, U.S.
DiedSeptember 11, 2003(2003-09-11) (aged 54)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Aortic dissection
EducationHollywood High School
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
OccupationActor, comedian, voice-over artist
Years active1968–2003
Notable work(s)Jack Tripper on Three's Company
Spouse(s)Nancy Morgan (m. 1977; div. 1996)
Amy Yasbeck (m. 1999–2003)
ChildrenJason Ritter
Tyler Ritter
Carly Ritter
Stella Ritter
ParentsTex Ritter
Dorothy Fay

Jonathan Southworth "John" Ritter (September 17, 1948 – September 11, 2003) was an American actor, comedian, and voice-over artist. Ritter was best known for playing Jack Tripper on the hit ABC sitcom Three's Company, for which he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award in 1984. He was the son of famous country/western star Tex Ritter, and the father of actor Jason Ritter.

Ritter appeared in hundreds of films and television shows/episodes combined (and performed on Broadway), including It (1990), Problem Child (1990), Problem Child 2 (1991) and Bad Santa in 2003 (his final live action film which was dedicated to his memory). Prior to Clifford's Really Big Movie (posthumously released), Ritter received four Daytime Emmy Award nominations for his voice work on the children's television series, Clifford the Big Red Dog, in addition to many other awards Ritter was nominated for or won. Don Knotts called Ritter the "greatest physical comedian on the planet".[2]

Ritter died from an aortic dissection on September 11, 2003. His death occurred shortly after the production of an episode for the second season of 8 Simple Rules.

Early life[edit]

Ritter was born on September 17, 1948 at the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California.[3] His father, Tex Ritter, was a singing cowboy/matinee-star, and his mother, Dorothy Fay (née Southworth), was an actress.[4] Ritter attended Hollywood High School, where he was student body president. He went on to the University of Southern California and majored in psychology with plans to have a career in politics. He later changed his major to theater arts after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Ritter graduated in 1971.[5]

While still in college, Ritter traveled to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and West Germany to perform in plays. After his graduation from USC in 1970, his first TV acting experience was a campus revolutionary in the TV series, Dan August, starring Burt Reynolds and future Three's Company alumnus Norman Fell. Ritter made his film debut in The Barefoot Executive. Ritter made guest appearances on the television series Hawaii Five-O, M*A*S*H, and many others. Ritter had a recurring role (he appeared in 18 episodes), as Reverend Matthew Fordwick, on the drama series, The Waltons, from October 1972 to December 1976. Since he was not a weekly cast member, he had the time to pursue other roles, which he did until December 1976, when he left for a permanent role on Three's Company.

Television and film career[edit]

Ritter headlined several stage performances before he was made a star by appearing in the hit ABC sitcom Three's Company (the Americanized version of the 1970s British Thames Television series Man About the House) in 1977, playing a single ladies' man and culinary student, Jack Tripper, who lives with two female roommates. The females originally were Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt) and Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers). While in later years the character of Janet remained, Somers was fired and other characters replaced her, including Chrissy's cousin Cindy (Jenilee Harrison), and unrelated roommate Terri Alden (Priscilla Barnes). Jack pretended to be gay to keep the landlords appeased over their living arrangements. The show spent several seasons near the top of the TV ratings in the U.S. before ending in 1984. Ritter performed for one year on the spin-off Three's a Crowd. The original series has been seen continuously in reruns and is also available on DVD. During the run of Three's Company, Ritter appeared in the films Hero at Large, Americathon, and They All Laughed.

In 1978, Ritter played Ringo Starr's manager on the television special Ringo, and in 1982, provided the voice of Peter Dickinson in Flight of Dragons. Hooperman was Ritter's first acting role after Three's Company. In the show, he played Detective Harry Hooperman who inherits a run down apartment building. He hires Susan Smith (Debrah Farentino). A relationship follows and Hooperman must juggle work, love, plus the antics of Bijoux the dog. John was nominated for both an Emmy Award[6] and a Golden Globe Award for his work on Hooperman in 1988. Ritter won a People's Choice Award for this role. In 1992-95, Ritter returned to TV for three seasons as John Hartman, aide to the Senator in Hearts Afire. This series starred Markie Post as Georgie Anne Lahti and Billy Bob Thornton as Billy Bob Davis. Ritter played the role of "Dad" in the music video Graham Nash's song "Innocent Eyes" from the 1996 album of the same name.

After his time on television, Ritter appeared in a number of movies, most notably Problem Child and its first sequel. He rejoined with Billy Bob Thornton in the Oscar-winning Sling Blade (playing a gay, kindhearted discount store manager) and Noises Off, and played the lead role in Blake Edwards' 1989 film Skin Deep. Ritter starred in many made-for-TV movies, including Gramps (1995), co-starring with Andy Griffith, Rob Hedden's The Colony (1995) with Hal Linden, Stephen King's It, Danielle Steel's Heartbeat with Polly Draper, and It Came From the Sky in 1999 with Yasmine Bleeth.

Ritter also made guest appearances on TV shows, such as Felicity, Ally McBeal, Scrubs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as an episode of Law & Order: SVU where the case involves the beating of a seven-months-pregnant woman, whose unborn child has been forcibly removed from her body via a primitive cesarean section. Among the witnesses questioned, Ritter plays the woman's husband, a psychiatrist with several damaging secrets and knows more about his wife's beating than he's willing to admit. John also provided the voice of the title character in the PBS animated children's show Clifford the Big Red Dog, a role for which he received four Emmy nominations. He starred alongside kickboxing actor Olivier Gruner for the buddy cop film Mercenary.

Broadway career[edit]

Ritter played Claude Pichon in The Dinner Party (2000) at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, which was written by Neil Simon. It ran for three hundred and sixty-four performances. Ritter won the Theatre World Award in 2001 for his performance in that work.[7]

Personal life[edit]

In 1977, Ritter was married to actress Nancy Morgan, with whom he had three children: Jason (who first appeared in the opening credits of Three's Company),[8][9] Carly, and Tyler.[5] They divorced in 1996.[10]

He married actress Amy Yasbeck September 18, 1999 at the Murphy Theatre in Wilmington, Ohio.[11] He and Yasbeck had one daughter, Stella, born one week before they married.[5] Yasbeck had variously played his love interest in the first two Problem Child movies. Yasbeck also played Ritter's wife in two sitcom appearances. In 1991, both were guest stars on The Cosby Show, in which Yasbeck played the in-labor wife of Ritter's basketball coach character. In 1996, Ritter guest starred on Yasbeck's sitcom, Wings, as the estranged husband of Yasbeck's character, Casey.


Ritter's gravestone

On September 11, 2003, Ritter fell ill while rehearsing for 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. He began sweating profusely, vomiting and complained of having chest pains. He was taken across the street to the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center.[3] Physicians misdiagnosed Ritter and treated him for a heart attack, however his condition worsened.[12] Physicians then diagnosed Ritter with an aortic dissection. Ritter died during surgery to repair the dissection at 10:48 p.m, six days before his 55th birthday.[13][14]

A private funeral was held on September 15 in Los Angeles after which Ritter was interred at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.[15][16]

In 2008, Yasbeck filed a $67 million wrongful death lawsuit against radiologist Dr. Matthew Lotysch and cardiologist Dr. Joseph Lee. Yasbeck accused Lee, who treated Ritter on the day of his death, of misdiagnosing his condition as a heart attack,[17] and Lotysch, who had given him a full-body scan two years earlier, of failing at that time to detect an enlargement of Ritter's aorta. Both sides agree that Ritter's true condition—an aortic dissection, which is a tear in the largest blood vessel in the body that grows until one suffers cardiac arrest or until trapped blood leaks out of the vessel—was not identified until just prior to his death due to a failure of emergency medicine physician Dr. Lawrence Wells to obtain a chest x-ray prior to diagnosing.[17] In 2008, at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the jury concluded that the doctors who treated Ritter the day he died were not negligent and thus not responsible for his death.[18][19] According to court records, Ritter's family received more than $14 million in settlements, including $9.4 million from Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he died.[20]

Response and legacy[edit]

Many of Ritter's co-workers expressed deep sorrow and heartbreak following the news of his death. Ritter's Three's Company co-star and close friend Suzanne Somers said: "I'm so sad for the family. We lost a good one, it was so unfinished". Zach Braff, who worked with Ritter on Scrubs, called Ritter a "comic hero" of his and said he had approached series creator Bill Lawrence to get Ritter to play his TV dad.[21] Katey Sagal testified in the wrongful death lawsuit, calling Ritter a "funny man who was funny like nobody's business".[22]

8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter was later retitled 8 Simple Rules following Ritter's death and continued for one and a half more seasons until its cancellation in 2005. Ritter's character, Paul Hennessy, was said to have died after collapsing in a grocery store while buying milk. ABC aired the first three episodes of the show's second season that had been taped before his death, each of which was introduced by the show's cast. The remainder of the show dealt with the family's trying to grapple with Paul's death. New male characters, played by James Garner and David Spade, were later added to the main cast as Ritter's replacement. Shortly before his death, Ritter had done a week-long taping with Hollywood Squares, which was aired as a tribute to him, introduced by Henry Winkler, the executive producer of the show and very close friend of Ritter's. Four days after Ritter's death, Nick at Nite ran an all-night Three's Company marathon that was dedicated to his memory.[23]

In 2004, Ritter was posthumously given an Emmy nomination for playing Paul Hennessey in 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, but lost to Kelsey Grammer for playing the title character of Frasier. Upon accepting his trophy, Grammer's remarks included comments made in tribute and remembrance of Ritter.[24] Ritter's final films, Bad Santa and Clifford's Really Big Movie, along with an episode of Scrubs (his character in this series died as well following Ritter's real life death) and King of the Hill, were dedicated in his memory.[25]

On June 6, 2008, a mural of Ritter painted by Eloy Torrez was dedicated at Hollywood High School.

In March 2010, the Thoracic Aortic Disease (TAD) Coalition, in partnership with Yasbeck and the John Ritter Foundation (JRF), announced the creation of the "Ritter Rules" which are life-saving reminders to recognize, treat and prevent thoracic aortic dissection. The purpose of the JRF is to provide accurate information to the general public about the disease and its risk factors, provide support to individuals who have thoracic aortic disease or have lost a loved one to the disease, and improve the identification of individuals at risk for aortic dissections and the treatment of thoracic aortic disease through medical research. Yasbeck worked with Dr. Dianna M. Milewicz, MD, PhD at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) to establish the John Ritter Research Program in Aortic and Vascular Diseases with the goal of preventing premature deaths due to aortic dissection by identifying genetic mutations that predispose individuals to thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections.


1971The Barefoot ExecutiveRogerDebut
1971Scandalous JohnWandell
1972The OtherRider
1973The Stone KillerOfficer Mort
1976NickelodeonFranklin Frank
1978Breakfast in BedPaul
1979AmericathonPresident Chet Roosevelt
1980Hero at LargeSteve Nichols
1980Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!)Snoopy (speakable voice)by Walt Disney Productions and United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
1980Wholly Moses!Satan (The Devil)
1981They All LaughedCharles Rutledge
1982The Flight of DragonsPeter DickensonVoice
1983Sunset LimousineAlan O'Black
1985Letting GoAlexTV Film
1986A Smoky Mountain ChristmasJudge Harold Benton(uncredited)
1987Real MenBob Wilson/Agent Pillbox, CIA
1989Skin DeepZachary 'Zach' Hutton
1990ItBen Hanscom
1990Problem Child'Little' Ben Healy
1991The Real Story of O Christmas TreePiney (Voice)Direct-to-video release
1991Problem Child 2Ben Healy
1992Noises OffGarry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain
1992Stay TunedRoy Knable
1993Danielle Steel's HeartbeatBill Grant
1994NorthWard Nelson
1995The ColonyRick Knowlton
1996Sling BladeVaughan Cunningham
1997NowhereMoses Helper
1997A Gun, a Car, a BlondeDuncan/The Bartender
1998MontanaDr. Wexler
1998Shadow of DoubtSteven Mayer
1998I Woke Up Early the Day I DiedRobert Forrest
1998Bride of ChuckyPolice Chief Warren Kincaid
1999"Lethal Vows"Dr. David Farris
2000PanicDr. Josh Parks
2000Lost in the Perishing Point HotelChristian Therapist
2000TripfallTom Williams
2000Terror TractBob CarterSegment: Make Me an Offer
2002TadpoleStanley Grubman
2002Man of the YearBill
2003Bad SantaBob ChipeskaPosthumously released. Final live action film.
2004Clifford's Really Big MovieClifford the Big Red Dog (Voice)Posthumously released.
2006Stanley's Dinosaur Round-UpGreat Uncle Stew (Voice)Posthumous direct-to-video release
Final animated and voice acting film.


1968Crazy World, Crazy PeopleVarious charactersTV special
1970Dan AugustEpisode: "Quadrangle for Death"
1971, 1977Hawaii Five-ORyan Moore
Mike Welles
2 episodes
1972 to 1976The WaltonsRev. Matthew Fordwick18 episodes
1973Medical CenterRonnieEpisode: "End of the Line"
1973Bachelor-at-LawBen SykesUnsold CBS TV pilot
1973M*A*S*HPvt. CarterEpisode: "Deal Me Out"
1974KojakKenny SoamesEpisode: "Deliver Us Some Evil"
1974Owen Marshall: Counselor at LawGregEpisode: "To Keep and Bear Arms"
1974The Bob Newhart ShowDaveEpisode: "Sorry, Wrong Mother"
1975Movin' OnCaseyEpisode: "Landslide"
1975MannixCliff ElginEpisode: "Hardball"
1975The Bob Crane ShowHornbeckEpisode: "Son of the Campus Capers"
1975PetrocelliJohn OlesonEpisode: "Chain of Command"
1975Barnaby JonesJoe RockwellEpisode: "The Price of Terror"
1975The Streets of San FranciscoJohn 'Johnny' SteinerEpisode: "Murder by Proxy"
1975The Night That Panicked AmericaWalter WingateABC TV film
1975The Mary Tyler Moore ShowReverend ChatfieldEpisode: "Ted's Wedding"
1975The RookiesHap DawsonEpisode: "Reluctant Hero"
1975 to 1976RhodaVince Mazuma
Jerry Blocker
2 episodes
1976Starsky & HutchTom ColeEpisode: "The Hostages"
1976PhyllisPaul JamesonEpisode: "The New Job"
1976 to 1984Three's CompanyJack Tripper174 episodes
1977 to 1983The Love BoatDale Riley/Reinhardt

3 episodes
1978RingoMartyTV film
1978Leave Yesterday BehindPaul StallingsABC TV film
1979The RopersJack TripperEpisode: "The Party"
1980The AssociatesChickEpisode: "The Censors"
1980The Comeback KidBubba NewmanABC TV film
1981InsightFrankieEpisode: "Little Miseries"
1982Pray TVTom McPhersonABC TV film
1982In Love with an Older WomanRobertCBS TV film
1983Sunset LimousineAlan O'BlackCBS TV film
1984Love Thy NeighborDanny LoebABC TV film
1984Pryor's PlaceEpisode: "The Showoff"
1984 to 1985Three's a CrowdJack Tripper22 episodes
1985Letting GoAlexABC TV film
1986Living SeasHostNBC TV film
1986Unnatural CausesFrank ColemanNBC TV film
1986A Smoky Mountain ChristmasJudge Harold BentonABC film
1986Life With LucyHimselfGuest Appearance
1987The Last FlingPhillip ReedABC TV film
1987Prison for ChildrenDavid RoyceCBS TV film
1987 to 1989HoopermanDet. Harry Hooperman42 episodes
1988Mickey's 60th BirthdayDudley GoodeTV special
1988Tricks of the TradeDonald TodsenCameo
CBS TV film
1989My Brother's WifeBarneyABC TV film
1990Stephen King's ItAdult Ben "Haystack" HanscomABC TV film
1990The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum StoryL. Frank BaumNBC TV film
1991The Cosby ShowRay EvansEpisode: "Total Control"
1991The Summer My Father Grew UpPaulNBC TV film
1991Anything But LovePatrick Serreau5 episodes
1992Fish PoliceInspector GillVoice
1992 to 1994Hearts AfireJohn Hartman54 episodes
1993HeartbeatBill GrantNBC TV film
1993The Only Way OutJeremy CarlisleABC TV film
1993The Larry Sanders ShowHimselfEpisode: "Off Camera"
1994Dave's WorldJohn HartmanEpisode: "Please Won't You Be My Neighbor"
1995GrampsClarke MacGruderNBC TV film
1995The ColonyRick KnowltonTV film
1995NewsRadioDr. Frank WestfordEpisode: "The Shrink"
1995The Larry Sanders ShowHimselfEpisode: "The Fourteenth Floor"
1996UnforgivablePaul HegstromCBS TV film
1996WingsStuart DavenportEpisode: "Love Overboard"
1996For HopeDate #5uncredited
ABC TV film
1996 to 1999Touched by an AngelMike O'Connor
Tom McKinsley
2 episodes
1997Loss of FaithBruce Simon BarkerTV film
1997MercenaryJonas AmblerHBO TV film
1997A Child's WishEd ChandlerCBS TV film
1997Dead Man's GunHarry McDonacleSegment: "The Great McDonacle"
1997Over the TopJustin TalbotEpisode: "The Nemesis"
1997Buffy the Vampire SlayerTed BuchananEpisode: "Ted"
1997 to 2003King of the HillEugene Grandy (Voice)4 episodes
1998Chance of a LifetimeTom MaguireCBS TV film
1998Ally McBealGeorge Madison2 episodes
1998Dead HusbandsDr. Carter ElstonTV film
1999Veronica's ClosetTimEpisode: "Veronica's Favorite Year"
1999Holy JoeJoe CassCBS TV film
1999It Came from the SkyDonald BridgesTV film
1999Lethal VowsDr. David FarrisCBS TV film
2000Chicago HopeJoe DysmerskiEpisode: "Simon Sez"
2000Batman BeyondDr. David Wheeler (Voice)Episode: "The Last Resort"
2000Family LawFather AndrewsEpisode: "Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law"
2000 to 2003Clifford the Big Red DogCliffordVoice
2000 to 2002FelicityMr. Andrew Covington7 episodes
2001TuckerMartyEpisode: "Homewrecker for the Holidays"
2002The Ellen ShowPercy MossEpisode: "Gathering Moss"
2002Law & Order: Special Victims UnitDr. Richard ManningEpisode: "Monogamy"
2002Breaking NewsLloyd FuchsEpisode: "Pilot"
2002ScrubsSam Dorian2 episodes
2002 to 20038 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage DaughterPaul Hennessy31 episodes (until his death)
2004King of the HillEugene GrandyEpisode: "Stressed for Success" (Posthumously released.)

Awards and nominations[edit]

DVD Exclusive Awards

Daytime Emmy Awards

Emmy Awards

Golden Globe Awards

People's Choice Awards

Screen Actors Guild Awards

Hollywood Walk of Fame

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Martin (13 September 2003). "John Ritter, 54, the Odd Man In 'Three's Company,' Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  2. ^ "Biography" John Ritter: In Good Company Air Date: 30 October 2002
  3. ^ a b "John Ritter: 1948-2003". September 18, 2003. p. 1. 
  4. ^ Gliatto, Tom (September 29, 2003). "Wonderful Company". 
  5. ^ a b c Lipton, Michael A. (December 16, 2002). "Acting His Age". 
  6. ^ John Ritter Emmy Nominated
  7. ^ Hodges, Ben; Willis, John A., eds. (1 Nov 2009). Theatre World 2008-2009: The Most Complete Record of the American Theatre. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4234-7369-5. ISSN 1088-4564. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "John Ritter". CBS News. Page 5 of 17. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  11. ^ "John Ritter". CBS News. Page 10 of 17. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  12. ^ "John Ritter Legacy Lives in "Ritter Rules"". March 17, 2010. 
  13. ^ Considine, Bob (February 4, 2008). "John Ritter’s widow talks about wrongful death suit". 
  14. ^ "John Ritter: 1948-2003". September 18, 2003. p. 2. 
  15. ^ Grace, Francie (September 16, 2003). "John Ritter's Family Says Goodbye". 
  16. ^ "Where Celebrities Are Buried In LA". September 30, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Jury hears actor John Ritter's final message to wife, a 2008 Associated Press story via CNN
  18. ^ "Associated Press" (2008-02-11). "Trial Begins Over John Ritter's Death". "ABC News". Retrieved 2008-02-29. [dead link]
  19. ^ E! News - Jury Clears Ritter Doctors
  20. ^ Charles Ornstein (2008-01-24). "Ritter's family says he didn't have to die". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  21. ^ Warner Bros. Online (2003-09-12). " : John Ritter Dies at 54". Retrieved 2013-01-20. 
  22. ^ Hammel, Sara. "Katey Sagal Testifies in John Ritter's Wrongful Death Trial". People. 
  23. ^ Jen Chung (2003-09-15). "Three's Company Marathon". Gothamist. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  24. ^ Tim Lammers (2004-09-20). "'Angels,' 'Sopranos' Win Big At Emmys". KGTV. Archived from the original on 2008-02-21. Retrieved 2008-02-29. "I'd like to take a minute to pay respect to John Ritter and his family", Grammer said the actor who received a posthumous nomination in the category. "He was a terrific guy and his death was a shock to all of us. He will be missed not only for his kindness, but for his work." 
  25. ^ Louise Kennedy (2004-04-23). "Clifford's 'Big Movie' will charm his small TV fans". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-02-29. "...Clifford (voiced, as on TV, by the late John Ritter, to whom the movie is fittingly dedicated)..." 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]