Johnathan Southworth "John" Ritter (September 17, 1948 – September 11, 2003) was an American actor, voice over artist and comedian perhaps best known for playing Jack Tripper and Paul Hennessy in the ABC
sitcoms Three's Company
and 8 Simple Rules
respectively. John Ritter was born in Burbank, California, the son of Dorothy Fay, an actress, and singing cowboy/matinée-star Tex Ritter.
Ritter headlined several stage performances before his Star-Making Role
in the hit sitcom Three's Company
(the Americanized version of the 1970s British Television series Man About the House
) in 1977, playing a single ladies' man and culinary student, Jack Tripper, who lives with two female roommates while pretending to be gay to appease their conservative land lords (the first played by Norman Fell, the second by Don Knotts
). Ritter became known as one the most down-to-earth and friendly guys, as well as an exceptional physical comedian.
On September 11, 2003, Ritter felt ill while rehearsing scenes for the second season of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
. He was taken across the street to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, where he died later that evening, around 10:45 pm PST. He was 54 years old, six days short of his 55th birthday. The cause of his death was an aortic dissection caused by a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. His father had died of a heart attack almost thirty years earlier. Ritter was interred at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. His mother died less than two months later. 8 Simple Rules
integrated his untimely death into the show
and it could be argued that his memory is what helped the show continue on for several more seasons. Scrubs
also featured the offscreen death of his character (J.D.'s father) with a similar ode to his legacy.
Ritter is remembered for his extremely likeable characters and how well he performed physical comedy. Don Knotts (with whom Ritter Co-Starred on Three's Company
) once called him the "Greatest physical comedian on the planet". His son Jason went on to star in The Event
and Gravity Falls