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John Ritter
John Ritter at the 1988 Emmy Awards.jpg
Ritter in 1988
Born
Johnathan Southworth Ritter

(1948-09-17)September 17, 1948
Died September 11, 2003(2003-09-11) (aged 54)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death Aortic dissection
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
Education Hollywood High School
Alma mater University of Southern California
Occupation Actor
Years active 1968–2003
Known for Three's Company
Three's a Crowd
Spouse(s)
Nancy Morgan
(m. 1977; div. 1996)
(m. 1999)
Children 4; including Jason and Tyler
Parents

Johnathan Southworth Ritter (September 17, 1948 – September 11, 2003) was an American actor. Ritter was a son of the singing cowboy star Tex Ritter and the father of actors Jason and Tyler Ritter. He is known for playing Jack Tripper on the ABC sitcom Three's Company (1977–1984), and received a Primetime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for the role in 1984. Ritter briefly reprised the role on the spin-off Three's a Crowd, which aired for one season, producing 22 episodes before its cancellation in 1985.

He appeared in over 100 films and television series combined and performed on Broadway, with roles including adult Ben Hanscom in It (1990), Problem Child (1990), Problem Child 2 (1991), a dramatic turn in Sling Blade (1996), and Bad Santa in 2003 (his final live action film, which was dedicated to his memory). In 2002, Don Knotts called Ritter the "greatest physical comedian on the planet". His final roles include voicing the title character on the PBS children's program Clifford the Big Red Dog (2000–2003), for which he received four Daytime Emmy Award nominations, and as Paul Hennessy on the ABC sitcom 8 Simple Rules (2002–2003).

Early life

Johnathan Southworth Ritter was born on September 17, 1948, at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. Ritter had a birth defect known as a coloboma in his right eye. His father, Tex Ritter, was a singing cowboy and matinee star, and his mother, Dorothy Fay (née Southworth), was an actress. He had an older brother, Thomas "Tom" Ritter. Ritter attended Hollywood High School, where he was student body president. He attended 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). Ritter was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at USC. While still in college, Ritter traveled to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and West Germany to perform in plays. Ritter graduated in 1970.

Career

Film and television

Ritter headlined several stage performances. After his graduation from USC in 1970, his first television acting experience was as a campus revolutionary in the television 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. Because 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 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 television special Ringo. In 1982, Ritter provided the voice of Peter Dickinson in the animated film The Flight of Dragons.

John Ritter 1977
Ritter in 1977

Ritter became a household name on Three's Company, portraying struggling culinary student Jack Tripper with two female roommates. Ritter co-starred opposite Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers, and then later Jenilee Harrison and Priscilla Barnes. Much of the comedy centered around Jack's pretending to be gay to keep the old-fashioned landlords appeased over the co-ed living arrangements. The series spent several seasons near the top of the ratings in the United States 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 available on DVD. During the run of Three's Company, Ritter appeared in the films Hero at Large, Americathon, and They All Laughed. In 1986, he played the role of Dad in the music video for Graham Nash's song "Innocent Eyes" from the album of the same name.

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 and a Golden Globe Award for his work on Hooperman. Ritter won a People's Choice Award for this role. From 1992 to 1995, 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.

After his time on television, he appeared in a number of movies, most notably Problem Child and its first sequel. He played the lead role in Blake Edwards' 1989 film Skin Deep, appeared in the film version of Noises Off, rejoined Billy Bob Thornton in the Oscar-winning Sling Blade (playing a kindhearted, gay, discount-store manager), and co-starred with Olivier Gruner in the 1996 action film Mercenary.

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 television shows, such as Felicity, Ally McBeal, Scrubs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He also provided the voice of the title character in the animated children's show Clifford the Big Red Dog and its animated film adaptation Clifford's Really Big Movie (2004), a role for which he received four Emmy nominations. His final film was Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up (2006), an animated direct-to-DVD film based on the television series, which was dedicated to his memory. At the time of his death, he was starring in 8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter.

Theater

In 2000, Ritter co-starred with Henry Winkler in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, portraying Claude Pichon. It ran for 364 performances. Ritter won the Theatre World Award in 2001 for his performance in that work. In 2003, Ritter made his final stage appearance in All About Eve at the Ahmanson Theatre.

J For J at LA's Court Theatre March 14-April 21, 2002. Starring John Ritter, Jeff Kober and Jenny Sullivan. Directed by Joseph Fuqua. Written by Jenny Sullivan.

Personal life

On October 16, 1977, Ritter married actress Nancy Morgan, with whom he had three children: Jason Carly, and Tyler. They divorced on September 1, 1996. He married actress Amy Yasbeck on September 18, 1999, at the Murphy Theatre in Wilmington, Ohio. They had a child born in 1998. Yasbeck played his love interest in the first two Problem Child movies, though as two different characters. 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.

Death

Johnritterstone
Ritter's grave marker

On September 11, 2003, Ritter was rehearsing on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California when he suddenly fell ill and began to experience problems with his heart. He was taken across the street to the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center at 6:00 pm. Ritter was initially treated by emergency room physicians for a heart attack; however, his condition quickly worsened. Ritter was then diagnosed with aortic dissection and was taken into surgery, but was pronounced dead at 10:48 p.m., at the age of 54.

A private funeral for Ritter was held in Los Angeles on September 15, 2003, after which he was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills.

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
1971 The Barefoot Executive Roger Film debut
Scandalous John Wendell
1972 The Other Rider
1973 The Stone Killer Hart
1975 The Prisoner of Second Avenue Elevator Passenger Uncredited
1976 Nickelodeon Franklin Frank
1977 Breakfast in Bed Paul Short film
1979 Americathon President Chet Roosevelt
1980 Hero at Large Steve Nichols
Wholly Moses! Satan (The Devil)
1981 They All Laughed Charles Rutledge
1982 The Flight of Dragons Peter Dickinson Voice, direct-to-video
1987 Real Men Bob Wilson, Agent Pillbox, CIA
1989 Skin Deep Zachary "Zach" Hutton
1990 Problem Child Benjamin "Ben" Healy Jr.
1991 Problem Child 2
The Real Story of O Christmas Tree Piney Voice, direct-to-video
1992 Noises Off Garry Lejeune, Roger Tramplemain
Stay Tuned Roy Knable
1994 North Ward Nelson
1996 Sling Blade Vaughan Cunningham
Mercenary Jonas Ambler Direct-to-video
1997 Nowhere Moses Helper
A Gun, a Car, a Blonde Duncan, The Bartender
Hacks Hank
1998 Montana Dr. Wexler
The Truth About Lying Simon Barker
Shadow of Doubt Steven Mayer
I Woke Up Early the Day I Died Robert Forrest
Bride of Chucky Police Chief Warren Kincaid
2000 Panic Dr. Josh Parks
Tripfall Tom Williams
Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel Christian Therapist
Terror Tract Bob Carter
Tadpole Stanley Grubman
2001 Nuncrackers Narrator Voice, direct-to-video
2002 Man of the Year Bill
2003 Manhood Eli
Bad Santa Bob Chipeska Posthumous release; final live-action film
2004 Clifford's Really Big Movie Clifford the Big Red Dog Voice, posthumous release; dedicated in memory
2006 Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up Great Uncle Stew Voice, posthumous release; final film role; dedicated in memory

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1967 The Dating Game Contestant Selected as the "Winning Bachelor"
1968 Crazy World, Crazy People Various characters TV special
1970 Dan August Coley Smith Episode: "Quadrangle for Death"
1971 Hawaii Five-O Ryan Moore, Mike Welles 2 episodes
1972–1976 The Waltons Rev. Matthew Fordwick Recurring role (18 episodes)
1973 Medical Center Ronnie Episode: "End of the Line"
Bachelor-at-Law Ben Sykes Unsold pilot
M*A*S*H Pvt. Carter Episode: "Deal Me Out"
1974 Kojak Kenny Soames Episode: "Deliver Us Some Evil"
Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law Greg Episode: "To Keep and Bear Arms"
The Bob Newhart Show Dave Episode: "Sorry, Wrong Mother"
1975 Movin' On Casey Episode: "Landslide"
Rhoda Vince Mazuma Episode: "Chest Pains"
Mannix Cliff Elgin Episode: "Hardball"
Great Performances Richard Episode: "Who's Happy Now?"
The Bob Crane Show Hornbeck Episode: "Son of the Campus Capers"
Petrocelli John Oleson Episode: "Chain of Command"
Barnaby Jones Joe Rockwell Episode: "The Price of Terror"
The Streets of San Francisco John 'Johnny' Steiner
The Night That Panicked America Walter Wingate TV film
The Mary Tyler Moore Show Reverend Chatfield Episode: "Ted's Wedding"
The Rookies Hap Dawson Episode: "Reluctant Hero"
1976 Starsky & Hutch Tom Cole Episode: "The Hostages"
Doc Jeff, George Episode: "A Little Bit of Soap"
Rhoda Jerry Blocker Episode: "Attack on Mr. Right"
Phyllis Paul Jameson Episode: "The New Job"
1977–1984 Three's Company Jack Tripper Lead role (174 episodes)
1977 The Love Boat Dale Riley Episode: "Oh, Dale"
Tattletales Himself (panelist) Syndication
1978 Ringo Marty Flesh TV film
Leave Yesterday Behind Paul Stallings
$25,000 Pyramid Himself (panelist) Syndication
1979 The Ropers Jack Tripper Episode: "The Party"
1980 The Associates Chick Episode: "The Censors"
The Comeback Kid Bubba Newman TV film
John Ritter: Being of Sound Mind and Body Himself, Various Characters TV special
1981 Insight Frankie Episode: "Little Miseries"
1982 Pray TV Tom McPherson TV film
In Love with an Older Woman Robert Christenberry
The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show Himself (guest star) TV special
1983 Sunset Limousine Alan O'Black TV film
The Love Boat Ben Cummins Episode: "The Emperor's Fortune"
1984 Love Thy Neighbor Danny Loeb TV film
Pryor's Place Himself (guest star) Episode: "The Showoff"
1984–1985 Three's a Crowd Jack Tripper Lead role (22 episodes)
1985 Letting Go Alex Schuster TV film
1986 Unnatural Causes Frank Coleman
A Smoky Mountain Christmas Judge Harold Benton
Life with Lucy Himself (guest star) Episode: "Lucy Makes a Hit with John Ritter"
1987 The Last Fling Phillip Reed TV film
Prison for Children David Royce
1987–1989 Hooperman Det. Harry Hooperman Lead role (42 episodes)
1988 Mickey's 60th Birthday Dudley Goode TV special
Tricks of the Trade Donald Todsen TV film
1989 Have Faith Rick Shepherd Episode: "The Window"
My Brother's Wife Barney Rusher TV film
1990 It Ben Hanscom TV miniseries
The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story L. Frank Baum TV film
1991 The Cosby Show Ray Evans Episode: "Total Control"
The Summer My Father Grew Up Dr. Paul Saunders TV film
Anything but Love Patrick Serreau Recurring role (5 episodes)
1992 Fish Police Inspector Gill Voice, 6 episodes
1992–1995 Hearts Afire John Hartman Lead role (54 episodes)
1993 Heartbeat Bill Grant Television film
The Only Way Out Jeremy Carlisle
The Larry Sanders Show Himself (guest star) Episode: "Off Camera"
1994 Dave's World John Hartman Episode: "Please Won't You Be My Neighbor"
1995 Gramps Clarke MacGruder TV film
The Colony Rick Knowlton
NewsRadio Dr. Frank Westford Episode: "The Shrink"
The Larry Sanders Show Himself (guest star) Episode: "The Fourteenth Floor"
1996 Unforgivable Paul Hegstrom TV film
Wings Stuart Davenport Episode: "Love Overboard"
For Hope Date #5 TV film (uncredited)
Touched by an Angel Mike O'Connor, Tom McKinsley 2 episodes
1997 Loss of Faith Bruce Simon Barker TV film
A Child's Wish Ed Chandler
Dead Man's Gun Harry McDonacle Segment: "The Great McDonacle"
Over the Top Justin Talbot Episode: "The Nemesis"
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Ted Buchanan Episode: "Ted"
1997–2004 King of the Hill Eugene Grandy Voice, 4 episodes
1998 Chance of a Lifetime Tom Maguire TV film
Ally McBeal George Madison 2 episodes
Dead Husbands Dr. Carter Elston TV film
1999 Veronica's Closet Tim Episode: "Veronica's Favorite Year"
Holy Joe Rev. Joe Cass TV film
It Came from the Sky Donald Bridges
Lethal Vows Dr. David Farris
2000–2003 Clifford the Big Red Dog Clifford Voice, main role
2000 Chicago Hope Joe Dysmerski Episode: "Simon Sez"
Batman Beyond Dr. David Wheeler Voice, episode: "The Last Resort"
Family Law Father Andrews Episode: "Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law"
2000–2002 Felicity Mr. Andrew Covington Recurring role (7 episodes)
2001 Tucker Marty Episode: "Homewrecker for the Holidays"
2002 The Ellen Show Percy Moss Episode: "Gathering Moss"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Dr. Richard Manning Episode: "Monogamy"
Breaking News Lloyd Fuchs Episode: "Pilot"
Scrubs Sam Dorian 2 episodes
2002–2003 8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter Paul Hennessy Lead role (31 episodes)

Video games

Year Title Role
2001 Clifford the Big Red Dog: Learning Activities Clifford
2002 Clifford the Big Red Dog: Musical Memory Games
2003 Clifford the Big Red Dog: Phonics

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
2003
2004
Primetime Emmy Awards 1978 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Three's Company
1981
1984 Won
1988 Hooperman Nominated
1999 Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Ally McBeal
2004 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series 8 Simple Rules
Golden Globe Awards 1979 Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy Three's Company
1980
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
People's Choice Awards 1988 Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program Hooperman Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards 1997 Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Sling Blade (shared w/co-stars) Nominated
  • 1983: Star on the Walk of Fame – 6627 Hollywood Boulevard; he and Tex Ritter were the first father-and-son pair to be so honored in different categories.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: John Ritter para niños

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