Rev. Obadiah Holmes definitely has some Famous Kin. I’ve covered Abe Lincoln & Amelia Earhart and now I’m covering my connection to comedic legend, John Ritter.
Another descendant of Rev. Holmes, is Willis Carrier – the inventor of air conditioning (I really love this guy on hot, sticky, humid days!) – Carrier is his 8th great grandson.
I find the relation to John Ritter especially interesting because of his manner of death. He passed away of an aortic dissection – the EXACT same thing that my brother, who would also be his 9th cousin, 2x removed, almost died of! Aortic dissections are relatively uncommon. Weakened aorta walls can be congenital – refer to my previous blog entitled “Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do” – I wonder if they run in all lines of this family?
John Ritter, is probably best know for the lovably goofy closet heterosexual Jack Tripper in the television comedy series ‘‘Three’s Company,” a smash hit in the 1970’s. Jack’s character is of the lucky man who shares an apartment with two beautiful women, Chrissy, played by Suzanne Somers, and Janet, played by Joyce DeWitt. I used to love watching Jack, Janet and Chrissy and still love watching the reruns to this day!
Johnathan Southworth Ritter was born in Burbank, California, on September 17, 1948. He was the son of legendary country singer/actor Tex Ritter and his wife, actress Dorothy Fay. The couple married in 1941 and had their first child, Tom Ritter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
John was destined to follow in his parents footsteps. He was enrolled at Hollywood High School where he was student body president. After graduation from high school, he attended the University of Southern California where he majored in Psychology and minored in Architecture. His first appearance on TV was in 1966 as a contestant on The Dating Game (1965) where he won a vacation to Lake Havasu, Arizona. After making his very first cameo appearance, he was induced to join an acting class taught by Nina Foch. He changed his major to Theatre Arts, graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Drama. He also studied acting with Stella Adler at the Harvey Lembeck Comedy Workshop. Between 1968 and 1969, he appeared in a series of stage plays in England, Scotland, Holland and in Germany.
His TV debut came playing a campus revolutionary on Dan August (1970) which starred Burt Reynolds and Norman Fell, who later starred with him on Three’s Company . Then he appeared as “Reverend Matthew Fordwick” on The Waltons (1971). He continued making more guest appearances on Medical Center (1969), M*A*S*H (1972), The Bob Newhart Show (1972), The Streets of San Francisco (1972), Kojak (1973), Rhoda (1974) and Mary Tyler Moore (1970).
The following year, in late 1975, ABC picked up the rights for a new series based on a British sitcom, Man About the House (1973). Ritter beat out 50 people, including a young Billy Crystal, to get a major role. The first pilot was trashed, and in order for it to be improved, Joyce DeWitt, an unknown actress, played the role of “Janet Wood”, along with Suze Lanier-Bramlett as the dumb blonde, “Chrissy Snow”. It did better than the first pilot, but the producers still needed a change and Suzanne Somers came to the show at the very last minute to play “Chrissy”. Thus the series, Three’s Company, was born.
In 1980, when Three’s Company was sold into syndication, the show became a ratings phenomenon. At the height of Ritter’s popularity, he won a Golden Globe in 1983 for Best Performance by an Actor after being nominated twice for Best TV Actor in a Musical-Comedy Series and, one year later, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In a Comedy Series after being nominated twice. By its eighth season, the show began to drop in the ratings and was canceled in 1984. After cancellation, he starred in its spin-off, called Three’s a Crowd (1984), also starring Mary Cadorette, but it lasted for only one season.
His first animated movie was that of a man turning into a dragon, whose job was to defeat “Ommendon” in The Flight of Dragons (1982). The following year, he came back to series television as “Detective Harry Hooperman” in the comedy/drama, Hooperman (1987) for which he was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1988 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He also won a People’s Choice Award for this role. He continued doing more box-office films such as Skin Deep (1989), in which he played a womanizing, alcoholic writer whose life seemed to be falling apart at the seams. In the movies, Problem Child (1990), and Problem Child 2 (1991), he played the surrogate father of a rebellious little boy who wrought havoc on the family. He also worked on Noises Off... (1992) and Stay Tuned (1992) before returning to another TV sitcom called Hearts Afire (1992) that also starred Billy Bob Thornton. The show had well-written scripts but failed to reach a massive audience which led to its cancellation in 1995. While he was working on Hearts Afire, he played “Ward Nelson” on North (1994). Then, he had the opportunity to work with Billy Bob Thornton, in the movie Sling Blade (1996), in which Ritter played the gay manager of a department store. He also provided the voice of “Clifford” in Clifford the Big Red Dog (2000). He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award 4 times in a row, totalling seven Emmy nominations in his 35-year career. In 1999, he was also nominated for an Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series playing the role of “George Madison” on an episode of Ally McBeal (1997).
Soon afterwards, he landed his last television role in 8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter (2002), based on the popular book. On this sitcom he played “Paul Hennessey”, a loving, rational dad, who laid down the ground rules for his three children and dealt with such topics as curfews, sex, drugs, getting arrested, etc. The show was a ratings winner in its first season and won a People’s Choice Award for Best New Comedy and also won for Favourite Comedy Series by the Family Awards.
On September 11, 2003, Ritter fell ill while rehearsing for 8 Simple Rules.
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. Physicians misdiagnosed Ritter and treated him for a heart attack (this is very common as the symptoms often mimic those of a heat attack). However, his condition worsened. Physicians later diagnosed Ritter with an aortic dissection. Ritter died during surgery to repair the dissection, six days before his 55th birthday. This is were I’m in awe. I hear of John Ritter and Alan Thicke dying in surgery for aortic dissections and yet my brother lived during the same surgery – was he ever blessed and he had an amazing thoracic cardiac surgeon in Dr. Ash.
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. He died on his daughter Stella’s birthday 😦
John Ritter’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is next to his father’s (see photos below).
He left behind four children: Jason Ritter, (born on Sunday, February 17, 1980), Carly Ritter, (born on Monday, March 1, 1982), Tyler Ritter, (born on Thursday, January 31, 1985) and Stella Ritter, (born on Friday, September 11, 1998).
I’m excited to see what connection I make next and from which line!
Remembering John Ritter A life of laughter