‘The Love Boat’ Creator Jeraldine Saunders Dead At 96

The writer broke ground as the first female cruise director on a major cruise ship line.

Writer Jeraldine Saunders (R) arrives at the 8th Annual TV Land Awards at Sony Studios on April 17, 2010 in Culver City, California.
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

The writer broke ground as the first female cruise director on a major cruise ship line.

Jeraldine Saunders, the creator of the long-running ABC series The Love Boat, has died at age 96. Saunders passed away her home in California from complications of kidney stone surgery she had in December, Deadline reports.

Saunders wrote the 1974 book The Love Boats, which documented her experience working as the first-ever full-time female cruise director for Princess Cruises, a major cruise lines. After a successful career as a model, Saunders sailed the high seas on cruise ships for seven days a week for 11 months of the year over a 10-year period. Her book about her experiences was turned into a television series, The Love Boat.

The star-studded ABC series, which featured cameos by just about every major star of the era, was produced by Aaron Spelling and ran for nearly 250 episodes between 1977 and 1986. The comedy-drama series also spawned a spinoff in 1998, The Love Boat: The Next Wave. On the original Love Boat TV series, the character of Julie McCoy, portrayed by Lauren Tewes, was loosely based on Saunders’ career as a cruise ship director.

Jeraldine Saunders was honored with a Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony with the Love Boat cast last May, and she recently received the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to her by The Love Boat star Bernie Kopell, who played the ship’s physician, Adam “Doc” Bricker, on the star-studded TV series.

Saunders, who also penned a syndicated astrology column, Omarr’s Astrological Forecast, for years, was also in the process of writing an outline for a Broadway musical based on The Love Boat, and she had been recently “basking in the limelight of the celebrations of her 40th Anniversary of her TV deal and the first episodes of Love Boat,” her spokesman Edward Lozzi said in a statement.

Saunders may have been the behind-the-scenes inspiration for The Love Boat, but she also spent some time in front of the camera as well. In 2013, Saunders appeared on TLC’s Extreme Cougar Wives with her then-46-year-old boyfriend, Donaldo. Saunders was 89 at the time, according to HuffPost. On the TLC special, Saunders turned down a proposal from her boyfriend of 11 years because she thought their relationship was “so perfect” as is.

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In 2014, Jeraldine Saunders celebrated the 40th anniversary of her book deal by fittingly going on a Princess cruise, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Saunders’ memorial service information has not yet been announced. The beloved writer’s only child, a daughter, Gail, died in 1970 at age 27.