John Ritter

John Ritter
Robert Trachtenberg / Associated Press


John Ritter
TV: North side of the 6600 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Born Johnathan Southworth Ritter on Sept. 17, 1948 in Burbank, Calif.
Died Sept. 11, 2003 of dissection of the aorta in Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, CA

John Ritter's career was marked by comic bookends. His most famous role was as a girl-chasing bachelor. And he was enjoying renewed success as a harried father chasing off the boys who pursued his two teenage girls when he died unexpectedly at 54.

Along the way, Ritter played such diverse characters as a dying Vietnam veteran, the author of "The Wizard of Oz," an earnest San Francisco policeman and a gay Southern shop employee.

The youngest son of country and western singer and actor Tex Ritter worked steadily, appearing in more than 100 TV series, movies and plays.

Ritter is best remembered as Jack Tripper, the closeted heterosexual who shared a Santa Monica apartment with two sexy single women on ABC's hit sitcom "Three's Company."

Though never a favorite with critics, "Three's Company" aired for seven seasons and was a top 10 favorite for most of its run.

He died unexpectedly in 2003 just as his latest sitcom, "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" was starting to break out as a hit for ABC.

The same network made Ritter a household name in "Three's Company," the American version of the British hit "Man About the House." He won the role over 50 other young actors. His costars, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt, also gained fame on the racy comedy.

After "Three's Company" ended in 1984, Ritter was given his own short-lived spinoff, "Three's a Crowd," in which Tripper became a restaurant chef.

Ritter also starred in the TV series "Hooperman" and "Hearts Afire," such TV movies as the drama "Unnatural Causes" and numerous feature films, including his career-shifting performance as a gay store employee in good friend Billy Bob Thornton's "Sling Blade." He performed frequently on the stage, including appearances in Neil Simon's "The Dinner Party" at the Mark Taper Forum and on Broadway.

At Hollywood High School, Ritter was student body president, and for a time even considered a career in politics. "I wanted to be junior senator from California by the time I was 35," he once said.

He initially enrolled at USC as a psychology major but switched to theater arts after the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy disheartened him. After graduating in 1971, he did regional theater.

"I remember thinking this is what I want to do with the rest of my life," he told People magazine in 2002.

Ritter made his film debut in the 1971 Disney comedy "The Barefoot Executive" and began guest-starring in such shows as "Dan August," "MASH," and "Hawaii Five-O." He played the minister who performed the marriage of Ted and Georgette on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and from 1972 to 1977 he played the Rev. Matthew Fordwick on "The Waltons."

Ritter teamed up with Thornton, who was making his feature directorial debut in 1996's independent drama "Sling Blade." Ritter was almost unrecognizable in glasses and short hair as the gay friend of a Southern mother and her son. The portrayal demonstrated his versatility, and earned him the best reviews of his film career.

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