John Ritter died in 2003 at 54 years old from an acute aortic dissection, but according to his widow, Amy Yasbeck, he could have been saved.

“I want people to know that John didn’t have to die. Aortic dissection does not have to kill you,” Amy, 61, exclusively told Closer at the Evening From the Heart Gala on May 9. “It usually starts with an aneurysm that has no symptoms but can be seen on a CT scan and sometimes caught by other imaging.”

Friends, family and costars from Three’s Company like Joyce DeWitt, Priscilla Barnes and Kaley Cuoco of 8 Simple Rules are among some of his loved ones who attended the gala to spread awareness of the disease in honor of John. 

Aortic dissection is a life-threatening condition when a tear occurs in the inner layer of the thoracic aorta, the body’s main artery. This is often mislabeled as a heart attack, which is what happened to John. 

Twenty years ago, while filming an episode of 8 Simple Rules, John experienced a sudden onset of chest pain and nausea. At the hospital, in the absence of diagnostic imaging, he was wrongly presumed to be having a heart attack. The world lost John Ritter to a tragically misdiagnosed thoracic aortic dissection.  

In honor of her late husband, Amy created The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health and the Evening From the Heart Gala to fund research, education and advocacy for the disease. 

John Ritter's Friends and Family Raise Awareness for Aortic Health

John’s son Tyler, 39, said the event and foundation’s message is bigger than he is. “It is something proactive and productive to do with loss, with grief,” Tyler exclusively told Closer at the gala. “And it took me a long time. I am more of the nature of grieving privately. But after many years of Amy leading the way here and having a couple of children of my own who may potentially be carrying a gene, I felt ready to assume a new role and a new responsibility.”

And John’s former costars are happy to spread awareness in honor of John.

Former Three’s Company castmate Joyce, 75, shared, “John was a remarkable human being. Beyond gifted, I don’t even understand how talented he was. I just know how lucky I was to get to work with him.”

If John knew about all that his friends, family and costars have done for him in his memory, his wife Amy joked, “He’d be like, ‘What are you doing? I’m not dead.'”

She added, “I think he would think it makes sense. He told me once in the nicest way that I reminded him of his mother. And Dorothy Ritter was an incredible, strong advocate for United Cerebral Palsy and actually helped the sidewalks get made how you see them now and accessibility and stuff. Like, if you see something and you have the power to catch people’s attention and make it better, you have to do it.”

The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for thoracic aortic aneurysm and dissection research, education, and advocacy. You can find out more information at