Thursday, November 12, 2020

Blog #97: John Ritter


Jonathan Southworth Ritter was born in Burbank, California on September 17, 1948.  Yeah, that's his real name.  His father was of course Tex Ritter, a country music and theatrical star who appeared in a number of westerns.  During production of Song of the Buckaroo in 1938, Tex met actress Dorothy Fay, whom he would marry three years later and begin his family with.

Growing up, Ritter wasn't contemplating a career in Hollywood.  He saw himself in Washington.  He served as student body president at Hollywood High School before studying politics and psychology at the University of Southern California.  His heritage finally caught up with him however, and he changed his major to theater arts.

Ritter graduated in 1970 and immediately found work in television.  He made a guest appearance as a college hippie on a detective series called Dan August.  The series starred Burt Reynolds in the title role as well as Ritter's future Three's Company co-star Norman Fell.  You can watch the episode, entitled "Quadrangle for Death," in its entirety here.  

The following year, Ritter made his theatrical debut in a Disney comedy called The Barefoot Executive, the completely plausible story of a chimpanzee hired by a major television network to schedule successful primetime programming.  Here's a clip that completely embarrasses the likes of Kurt Russell, Harry Morgan and Wally Cox.  

The Waltons.

In 1972, Ritter began a recurring role on the CBS drama The Waltons.  For the next four seasons, he'd appear as Reverend Matthew Fordwick on the hit series.  Judy Norton, who was a regular on the show, vlogs about it today.  She recently devoted an episode to discussing Ritter's performance on the series.  You can watch that vlog here.

He stayed with the series until 1976, when he accepted the role that would define his career, that of Jack Tripper on Three's Company.  For the next eight seasons, he'd share a Santa Monica apartment with a bevy of beautiful ladies surrounded by wacky neighbors and landlords. 

Then in 1984, Ritter was given a spin-off series dubbed Three's a Crowd. It lacked the chemistry of the original series however, and would only last for one season before ABC pulled the plug.  You can watch that series intro here

In 1987, Ritter took the title role in a series called Hooperman, which saw him as a cop by day and a building manager (landlord?) by night.  It was a modest ratings success, lasting for two seasons.  Ritter even won a People's Choice Award for his work on the series.  Check out the intro here.

8 Simple Rules.
Hearts Afire was his next series, which began in 1992 and ran for three seasons.  He co-starred with Night Court alum Markie Post.  The series began in Washington and saw its two main characters attracted to one another despite sitting on opposite sides of the political aisle.  As the series progressed, the two would marry and move to a small rural community while firing several supporting cast members along the way.  Honestly, I don't even remember this series.  I can't find the intro anywhere, but here's a whacky clip featuring Post with special guest star Rush Limbaugh as himself.  Hijinks ensue.

Ritter's final series was the sit-com 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.  Like most of his post-Three's Company series, it did alright, but it was never a huge ratings hit.  The series saw him married to Katey Sagal of Married With Children fame, with the titular daughter played by Kaley Cuoco, who would go on to much greater success a few years later with The Big Bang Theory.

On September 11, 2003, during rehearsal on the second season's fourth episode, Ritter became ill, complaining of chest pains, vomiting and heavy sweating.  He was taken from the set to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, the same hospital where he was born.  Doctors initially believed it to be a heart attack, but their ultimate diagnosis was an aortic dissection.  It took his life at 10:48 p.m., just six days shy of his 55th birthday.  

He was buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

Location: Court of Liberty, Gardens of Heritage, Map #H23,
Lot #1622, Companion Garden Crypt #2
Inscription: "And in the end, the love you take is
equal to the love you make." - The Beatles

Rest in peace.


  • In 2010, Ritter's widow Amy Yasbeck shared with readers her memories of their years together in her memoir With Love and Laughter, John Ritter.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • Ritter was born with a birth defect known as coloboma, which resulted in a hole in his left eye.

  • While still in college, Ritter appeared as a lucky bachelor on The Dating Game.  You can watch his segment here.

  • Three's Company would produce three pilot episodes before finally becoming a series.  Ritter appeared in all three versions along with Norman Fell and Audra Lindley, but with different female roommates.  One other difference is that Ritter's character was named David.

  • Ritter's son Jason, an actor in his own right, got his start as a toddler appearing in the opening credits of Three's Company.  Look for him here as Joyce DeWitt is being introduced.

  • Ritter would return to the Three's Company apartment on two separate occasions.  The first was a quick clip in the 1992 film Stay Tuned.  Then in 2002, 8 Simple Rules devoted an entire episode to the 70s sit-com, which saw Ritter as Mr. Roper in a hilarious dream sequence.  Click on each title to see more.

  • Earlier this year, Six Feet Under Hollywood visited the grave of Ritter's co-star Don Knotts.  You can re-visit that blog here.

  • Ritter was survived by his mother, who was 88 at the time of his passing.  She subsequently passed just two months later.


  1. I remember "Hearts Afire" being on but I don't think I watched it. But I DO remember that it had a very earworm theme song!