John Ritter

This article is about the American actor. For the singer, see Myka Relocate. For other people, see John Ritter (disambiguation).
John Ritter

Ritter at the 1988 Emmy Awards
Born Jonathan Southworth Ritter
(1948-09-17)September 17, 1948
Burbank, California, U.S.
Died September 11, 2003(2003-09-11) (aged 54)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death Aortic dissection
Education Hollywood High School
Alma mater University of Southern California
Occupation Actor, comedian
Years active 1968–2003
Notable work Jack Tripper on Three's Company
Spouse(s) Nancy Morgan (m. 1977; div. 1996)
Amy Yasbeck (m. 1999; his death 2003)
Children 4; including Jason Ritter and Tyler Ritter
Parent(s) Tex Ritter
Dorothy Fay

Jonathan Southworth "John" Ritter[1] (September 17, 1948 – September 11, 2003) was an American actor and comedian, best known for his role of Jack Tripper in Three's Company, for which he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award in 1984; also playing the same role in Three's a Crowd, he was the son of the late singing cowboy star Tex Ritter and the father of actors Jason Ritter and Tyler 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

Ritter was born at the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, on September 17, 1948.[3] Ritter had a birth defect known as a coloboma in his right eye. His father, Tex Ritter, was a singing cowboy/matinee star, and his mother, Dorothy Fay (née Southworth), was an actress.[4] He has an older brother, Thomas Matthews "Tom" (b. January 8, 1947).[5] 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 and attended the USC School of Dramatic Arts (formerly School of Theatre) after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. While still in college, Ritter traveled to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and West Germany to perform in plays. Ritter graduated in 1971.[6]


Film and television

Ritter as Jack Tripper, 1977

Ritter headlined several stage performances. 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 co-star Norman Fell. Ritter made his film debut in the 1971 Disney film The Barefoot Executive. He made guest appearances on the television series Hawaii Five-O, M*A*S*H, and many others. He had a recurring role as the 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 time to pursue other roles, which he did until December 1976, when he left for a starring role in the hit ABC sitcom Three's Company (the Americanized version of the 1970s British Thames Television series Man About the House) in 1977. In 1978, Ritter played Ringo Starr's manager on the TV special Ringo. In 1982, Ritter provided the voice of Peter Dickinson in Flight of Dragons.

Ritter became a household name playing struggling culinary student Jack Tripper with two female roommates. Ritter co-starred opposite Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers; however, Somers left due to a contractual dispute in 1981. Jenilee Harrison and then Priscilla Barnes filled Somers's role. Much of the comedy centered around Jack's pretending to be gay to keep the old-fashioned landlords appeased over the seemingly sordid living arrangements. The series spent several seasons near the top of the TV ratings in the U.S. before ending in 1984. A year-long spin-off Three's a Crowd ensued, as the Jack Tripper character has a live-in girlfriend and runs his own bistro. The original series has been seen continuously in reruns and is also available on DVD. During the run of Three's Company, Ritter also appeared in the films Hero at Large, Americathon, and They All Laughed.

Hooperman was Ritter's first regular television role after Three's Company. Detective Harry Hooperman inherits a run-down apartment building and hires Susan Smith (Debrah Farentino) to run it. A relationship follows and Hooperman must juggle work, love, and the antics of Bijoux the dog. In 1988, John was nominated for both an Emmy Award[7] and a Golden Globe Award for his work on Hooperman. Ritter won a People's Choice Award for this role. In 1992–95, Ritter returned to television for three seasons as John Hartman, aide to a U.S. Senator in Hearts Afire. This series starred Markie Post as Georgie Anne Lahti and Billy Bob Thornton as Billy Bob Davis. He also played Garry Lejeune / Roger Tramplemain in the production Noises Off in 1992, and he played the role of "Dad" in the music video for Graham Nash's song "Innocent Eyes" from the 1996 album of the same name.

After his time on television, he appeared in a number of movies, most notably Problem Child and its first sequel. He rejoined Billy Bob Thornton in the Oscar-winning Sling Blade (playing a kindhearted, gay, 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, and an episode of Law & Order: SVU (2002). 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.


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 364 performances. Ritter won the Theatre World Award in 2001 for his performance in that work.[8] In 2003, Ritter made what was his final stage appearance in All About Eve a star-studded benefit for the Actors' Fund of America, held at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Personal life

In 1977, Ritter married Nancy Morgan, with whom he had three children: Jason (who first appeared in the opening credits of Three's Company),[9][10] Carly, and Tyler.[6] They divorced in 1996.[11]

He married actress Amy Yasbeck on September 18, 1999, at the Murphy Theatre in Wilmington, Ohio.[12] Their daughter was born on September 11, 1998, one year before they married.[13]

Yasbeck 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 and vomiting, and complained of having chest pains. He was taken across the street to the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, by coincidence the same hospital where he was born.[3] Physicians misdiagnosed Ritter and treated him for a heart attack; however, his condition worsened.[14] Physicians then diagnosed Ritter with an aortic dissection. Ritter died during surgery to repair the dissection at 10:48 pm (PDT), six days before his 55th birthday.[15][16]

A private funeral was held on September 15 in Los Angeles, after which Ritter was interred at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.[17][18]

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,[19] 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.[19] 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, thus were not responsible for his death.[20][21] 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.[22]

Response and legacy

Many of Ritter's co-workers expressed deep sorrow and heartbreak following the news of his death. Ritter's Three's Company co-star 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.[23] Katey Sagal testified in the wrongful death lawsuit, calling Ritter a "funny man who was funny like nobody's business".[24]

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 Katey Sagal. The remainder of the show dealt with the family 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 dedicated to his memory.[25]

In 2004, Ritter was posthumously given an Emmy nomination for playing Paul Hennessy 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.[26] 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.[27]

On June 6, 2008, a mural of Ritter painted by Eloy Torrez was dedicated at Hollywood High School.[28]

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 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.



Year Title Role Notes
1971 The Barefoot Executive Roger Debut
1971 Scandalous John Wandell
1972 The Other Rider
1973 The Stone Killer Officer Mort
1976 Nickelodeon Franklin Frank
1978 Breakfast in Bed Paul
1979 Americathon President Chet Roosevelt
1980 Hero at Large Steve Nichols
1980 Wholly Moses! Satan (The Devil)
1981 They All Laughed Charles Rutledge
1982 The Flight of Dragons Peter Dickenson Voice role; direct-to-video
1983 Sunset Limousine Alan O'Black
1986 A Smoky Mountain Christmas Judge Harold Benton Uncredited
1987 Real Men Bob Wilson/Agent Pillbox, CIA
1989 Skin Deep Zachary 'Zach' Hutton
1990 It Ben Hanscom
1990 Problem Child 'Little' Ben Healy
1991 The Real Story of O Christmas Tree Piney Voice role; direct-to-video release
1991 Problem Child 2 Ben Healy
1992 Noises Off Garry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain
1992 Stay Tuned Roy Knable
1993 Danielle Steel's Heartbeat Bill Grant
1994 North Ward Nelson
1995 The Colony Rick Knowlton
1996 Sling Blade Vaughan Cunningham
1997 Nowhere Moses Helper
1997 A Gun, a Car, a Blonde Duncan/The Bartender
1997 Hacks Hank
1998 Montana Dr. Wexler
1998 Shadow of Doubt Steven Mayer
1998 I Woke Up Early the Day I Died Robert Forrest
1998 Bride of Chucky Police Chief Warren Kincaid
1999 Lethal Vows Dr. David Farris
2000 Panic Dr. Josh Parks
2000 Lost in the Perishing Point Hotel Christian Therapist
2000 Tripfall Tom Williams
2000 Terror Tract Bob Carter Segment: "Make Me an Offer"
2001 Nuncrackers Narrator Direct-to-video
2002 Tadpole Stanley Grubman
2002 Man of the Year Bill
2003 Manhood Eli
2003 Bad Santa Bob Chipeska Posthumously released; final live action film
2004 Clifford's Really Big Movie Clifford the Big Red Dog Voice role (posthumously released)
2006 Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up Great Uncle Stew (voice) Posthumous direct-to-video release


Year Title Role Notes
1968 Crazy World, Crazy People Various characters Special
1970 Dan August Episode: "Quadrangle for Death"
1971, 1977 Hawaii Five-O Ryan Moore
Mike Welles
2 episodes
1972–1976 The Waltons Rev. Matthew Fordwick 18 episodes
1973 Medical Center Ronnie Episode: "End of the Line"
1973 Bachelor-at-Law Ben Sykes Unsold pilot
1973 M*A*S*H Pvt. Carter Episode: "Deal Me Out"
1974 Kojak Kenny Soames Episode: "Deliver Us Some Evil"
1974 Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law Greg Episode: "To Keep and Bear Arms"
1974 The Bob Newhart Show Dave Episode: "Sorry, Wrong Mother"
1975 Movin' On Casey Episode: "Landslide"
1975 Mannix Cliff Elgin Episode: "Hardball"
1975 The Bob Crane Show Hornbeck Episode: "Son of the Campus Capers"
1975 Petrocelli John Oleson Episode: "Chain of Command"
1975 Barnaby Jones Joe Rockwell Episode: "The Price of Terror"
1975 The Streets of San Francisco John 'Johnny' Steiner Episode: "Murder by Proxy"
1975 The Night That Panicked America Walter Wingate ABC film
1975 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Reverend Chatfield Episode: "Ted's Wedding"
1975 The Rookies Hap Dawson Episode: "Reluctant Hero"
Rhoda Vince Mazuma
Jerry Blocker
"Chest Pains"
"Attack on Mr. Right"
1976 Starsky & Hutch Tom Cole Episode: "The Hostages"
1976 Phyllis Paul Jameson Episode: "The New Job"
1977–1984 Three's Company Jack Tripper 174 episodes
1977, 1983 The Love Boat Ben Cummins / Dale Riley/Reinhardt 2 episodes (1 2-part)
1978 Ringo Marty Movie
1978 Leave Yesterday Behind Paul Stallings ABC film
1979 The Ropers Jack Tripper Episode: "The Party"
1980 The Associates Chick Episode: "The Censors"
1980 The Comeback Kid Bubba Newman ABC film
1981 Insight Frankie Episode: "Little Miseries"
1982 Pray TV Tom McPherson ABC film
1982 In Love with an Older Woman Robert CBS film
1982 The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show Himself Special
1983 Sunset Limousine Alan O'Black CBS film
1984 Love Thy Neighbor Danny Loeb ABC film
1984 Pryor's Place Episode: "The Showoff"
1984–1985 Three's a Crowd Jack Tripper 22 episodes
1985 Letting Go Alex ABC film
1986 Living Seas Host NBC film
1986 Unnatural Causes Frank Coleman NBC film
1986 A Smoky Mountain Christmas Judge Harold Benton ABC film
1986 Life with Lucy Himself Guest Appearance
1987 The Last Fling Phillip Reed ABC film
1987 Prison for Children David Royce CBS film
1987–1989 Hooperman Det. Harry Hooperman 42 episodes
1988 Mickey's 60th Birthday Dudley Goode Special
1988 Tricks of the Trade Donald Todsen Cameo; CBS film
1989 My Brother's Wife Barney ABC film
1990 Stephen King's It Adult Ben "Haystack" Hanscom ABC film
1990 The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story L. Frank Baum NBC film
1991 The Cosby Show Ray Evans Episode: "Total Control"
1991 The Summer My Father Grew Up Paul NBC film
1991 Anything but Love Patrick Serreau 5 episodes
1992 Fish Police Inspector Gill Voice role
1992–1995 Hearts Afire John Hartman 54 episodes
1993 Heartbeat Bill Grant NBC film
1993 The Only Way Out Jeremy Carlisle ABC film
1993 The Larry Sanders Show Himself Episode: "Off Camera"
1994 Dave's World John Hartman Episode: "Please Won't You Be My Neighbor"
1995 Gramps Clarke MacGruder NBC film
1995 The Colony Rick Knowlton USA Network film
1995 NewsRadio Dr. Frank Westford Episode: "The Shrink"
1995 The Larry Sanders Show Himself Episode: "The Fourteenth Floor"
1996 Unforgivable Paul Hegstrom CBS film
1996 Wings Stuart Davenport Episode: "Love Overboard"
1996 For Hope Date #5 ABC film (uncredited)
1996, 1999 Touched by an Angel Mike O'Connor
Tom McKinsley
2 episodes
1997 Loss of Faith Bruce Simon Barker Movie
1997 Mercenary Jonas Ambler HBO film
1997 A Child's Wish Ed Chandler CBS film
1997 Dead Man's Gun Harry McDonacle Segment: "The Great McDonacle"
1997 Over the Top Justin Talbot Episode: "The Nemesis"
1997 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Ted Buchanan Episode: "Ted"
1997–2003 King of the Hill Eugene Grandy (Voice) 4 episodes
1998 Chance of a Lifetime Tom Maguire CBS film
1998 Ally McBeal George Madison 2 episodes
1998 Dead Husbands Dr. Carter Elston USA Network film
1999 Veronica's Closet Tim Episode: "Veronica's Favorite Year"
1999 Holy Joe Joe Cass CBS film
1999 It Came from the Sky Donald Bridges Romance Classics film
1999 Lethal Vows Dr. David Farris CBS film
2000 Chicago Hope Joe Dysmerski Episode: "Simon Sez"
2000 Batman Beyond Dr. David Wheeler (voice) Episode: "The Last Resort"
2000 Family Law Father Andrews Episode: "Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law"
2000–2003 Clifford the Big Red Dog Clifford Voice role
2000–2002 Felicity Mr. Andrew Covington 7 episodes
2001 Tucker Marty Episode: "Homewrecker for the Holidays"
2002 The Ellen Show Percy Moss Episode: "Gathering Moss"
2002 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Dr. Richard Manning Episode: "Monogamy"
2002 Breaking News Lloyd Fuchs Episode: "Pilot"
2002 Scrubs Sam Dorian 2 episodes
2002–2003 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter Paul Hennessy 31 episodes
2004 King of the Hill Eugene Grandy Episode: "Stressed for Success" (posthumously released)

Awards and honors

Association Year Category Work Result
Daytime Emmy Awards 2001 Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Clifford the Big Red Dog Nominated
2002 Nominated
2003 Nominated
2004 Nominated
Emmy Awards 1978 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Three's Company Nominated
1981 Nominated
1984 Won
1988 Hooperman Nominated
1999 Ally McBeal Nominated
2004 8 Simple Rules Nominated
Golden Globe Awards 1979 Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy Three's Company Nominated
1980 Nominated
1984 Won
1987 Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Unnatural Causes Nominated
1988 Best TV Actor in a Musical/Comedy Hooperman Nominated
People's Choice Awards 1988 Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program Hooperman Won
Screen Actors Guild 1997 Outstanding Performance by a Cast Sling Blade (shared w/co-stars) Nominated


  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. 1 2 "John Ritter: 1948–2003". September 18, 2003. p. 1.
  4. Gliatto, Tom (September 29, 2003). "Wonderful Company".
  5. Editors, Editors (n.d.). "John Ritter Biography". A&E Television Networks. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  6. 1 2 Lipton, Michael A. (December 16, 2002). "Acting His Age".
  7. "John Ritter Emmy Nominated". 2003-09-12. Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  8. 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.
  9. "Jason Ritter". 2013-03-08. Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  10. "Jason Ritter Biography". Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  11. "John Ritter". CBS News. Page 5 of 17. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  12. "John Ritter". CBS News. Page 10 of 17. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  13. John Ritter Biography. Accessed 13 November 2014.
  14. "John Ritter Legacy Lives in "Ritter Rules"". March 17, 2010.
  15. Considine, Bob (February 4, 2008). "John Ritter's widow talks about wrongful death suit".
  16. "John Ritter: 1948–2003". September 18, 2003. p. 2.
  17. Grace, Francie (September 16, 2003). "John Ritter's Family Says Goodbye".
  18. "Where Celebrities Are Buried In LA". September 30, 2013.
  19. 1 2 Deutsch, Linda (2 April 2008). "John Ritter's family seeks $67M in medical trial". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  20. "Associated Press" (2008-02-11). "Trial Begins Over John Ritter's Death". "ABC News". Retrieved 2008-02-29.
  21. "E! News – Jury Clears Ritter Doctors". Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  22. 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.
  23. Warner Bros. Online (2003-09-12). " : John Ritter Dies at 54". Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  24. Hammel, Sara. "Katey Sagal Testifies in John Ritter's Wrongful Death Trial". People.
  25. Jen Chung (2003-09-15). "Three's Company Marathon". Gothamist. Retrieved 2012-09-16.
  26. Tim Lammers (2004-09-20). "'Angels,' 'Sopranos' Win Big At Emmys". KGTV. Archived from the original on 2012-03-07. 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.
  27. 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)...
  28. "John Ritter photo added to mural". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2015-12-26.

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