When Three’s Company star John Ritter abruptly died nearly 16 years ago, the world was stunned. The actor, who was only 54, had been shooting an episode of the sitcom 8 Simple Rules when he was stricken by chest pains. Rushed to the hospital, he would die later that day of complications arising from an aortic dissection. Frankly, no one could believe it.
“Utter devastation.” Those are the words that come to mind for Chris Mann, author of Come and Knock on Our Door: A Hers and Hers and His Guide to Three’s Company, when he remembers hearing the news. “This was a guy that I grew up with and then got the rare chance to meet, talk to, and connect with personally,” he says. “He had been so kind and opened all these doors to make the Three’s Company book happen. I had seen him five months prior on the set of 8 Simple Rules. I got to see him in his element, feeling joyous. He had a baby girl, his children were entering college, [son] Jason [Ritter] was entering the acting arena. In a way, he was sort of on top again.”
Marty Davidson, director of the first feature film John starred in, Hero at Large, finds himself actually reflecting on the actor’s memorial service as it very much embodied the spirit of the man he knew. “It was on Hollywood Boulevard in one of those grand movie palaces,” he shares. “Michael Eisner, I think, organized it, because he was probably the head of ABC when John was doing Three’s Company. I will never forget that evening; the sadness was overwhelming, but there was also fun and joy as the Billy Bob Thorntons of the world got up and talked about their experiences with John.
“And I will never forget the ending,” Marty adds with a warm smile, “when you were totally spent at the end of the evening and everyone had spoken about him, when all of a sudden the back doors of the movie theater opened up and in came the start of what was a hundred-piece marching band from USC in full regalia. They got everybody — probably 200 people — on their feet and marching out on to Hollywood Boulevard with them holding up traffic and going across the street to a bowling alley. There, there was food and whatever, and it was an amazing experience, because even when John passed away in such a sad way, we were all still overwhelmingly moved and laughing and having fun.”
Which doesn’t surprise Richard Kline — John’s Three Company costar, who played best pal Larry Dallas — in the least. That’s evident when we ask him his thoughts at the mention of John’s name: “Friend. Comedy genius. All around good guy. Great father. Baseball fan. Beatles fan; huge Beatles fan … So many things come to mind.”
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