Jonathan Southworth Ritter, a King of Comedy and famous actor, was born in Burbank, California on September 17, 1948. He was famously known for his leading role in the Three’s Company television series. John was a very passionate person when it came to pursuing his goals and dreams. He was also known for his silly and fun-loving personality.
Ritter’s parents definitely rubbed off on him more than he might have realized. Tex Ritter, Jonathan’s father, was known in the country music world as well as on the silver screen. He helped establish the Country Music Association as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Tex was also a lifetime member of the Grand Ole Opry. When not working on acting or music, he put a lot of energy and love into The United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, as his other son, Tom Ritter, had been born with cerebral palsy. John and his brother, Tom, also became involved in this foundation and would host telethons annually to help fundraise money.
Dorothy Fay Southworth Ritter, John and Tom’s mother, also had ties to the silver screen. Her most well-known acting roles were Prairie Justice and The Stranger from Arizona in 1938. In 1941, she starred in White Eagle. Just as Tex became involved in the Grand Ole Opry, so did Dorothy Fay; she became a professional greeter at their establishment. She died very shortly after John’s death. She could have died from a broken heart, which is a real condition (takotsubo cardiomyopathy).
Growing up, John attended Hollywood High School. John originally majored in psychology and had a minor in architecture while he was attending University of Southern California. Towards the end of his sophomore year, he decided to change his major to theater arts. He had enrolled into a drama class and enjoyed it so much. This was a life altering change, sending him down an entirely different path of possibilities. This drama class was taught by Nina Foch, who starred in many various films in the late 1940s.
Before scoring his role in Three’s Company, Ritter had a few roles in stage performances such as Love Letters, As You Like It, and The Glass Menagerie. These performances took place in Europe, and the smaller roles helped him land bigger future roles.
Ritter also had minor roles in television shows during the early 70s, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Waltons, Hawaii Five-O, and M.A.S.H. After starring in these roles, he went on to play the leading role of Jack Tripper in Three’s Company in 1977. John received numerous awards for Three’s Company, including a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
“I am glad I knew him. I am privileged to have worked with him. I am unbelievably sad for his family, and I will miss him,” Suzanne Somers said in a statement at the time of his passing.
He later went on to do various other projects including the movie, Problem Child in 1990. Seven years later, he and co-star Amy Yasbeck were regularly dating.
Ritter later worked on Sling Blade with Billy Bob Thornton in 1996. He also played in Bad Santa with Billy in 2003. He is also known as the voice of Clifford, The Big Red Dog. His last most popular role on screen was for the television series, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, from 2002 to 2003.
AKaley Cuoco, co-star on the show 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, stated, “I just adored him.”
She told via The Associated Press in 2012, “He’d put a potato chip on his shoulder and go, ‘Do I have a chip on my shoulder?’ And we would just crack up! He would do it every day!”
John was known to tell the same joke over and over in the same day, but would always get a laugh. This was a sign of true talent in the world of comedy, as it is hard to tell a joke repeatedly and still have people find it funny.
John will be missed, but the memory of him will never die. When someone makes you laugh that hard, they can never be forgotten. This year would mark the celebration of his 66th birthday. Happy Birthday, John!
[Image via Chattanooga Radio TV]