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Overview for John Ritter
John Ritter

John Ritter


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Also Known As: Jonathan Ritter,Jonathan Southworth Ritter Died: September 11, 2003
Born: September 17, 1948 Cause of Death: Heart Failure
Birth Place: Burbank, California, USA Profession: Cast ... actor producer


who have that extraordinary kind of naturalness... He kept it right up until the end. He had it right when I met him, when he was 20. He never seemed to be acting. It's a cliché, I guess, but he was probably the nicest guy I ever knew."

Yasbeck received $14 million in initial settlements over her husband's death, including from the hospital, but her $67 million suit over the misdiagnosis, brought to Los Angeles County Superior Court in early 2008, failed to convince a jury of negligence on the part of the attending doctors; particularly on the doctor who had conducted a body scan on Ritter in 2001 but failed to detect the condition. In the meantime, however, John's brother, Tom, was scanned for the aortic dissection and was found to have the same condition. John Ritter's death, it turned out, saved his brother's life and, no doubt, numerous others with similar heart concerns, so publicly discussed was the condition. Adding to Ritter's legacy was Jason Ritter, his eldest son by Nancy Morgan, who had already scored roles in such films as "Swimfan (2002) and "Freddy vs. Jason" (2003) while his father was alive, and was starting on his first network series, "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS, 2003-05) at the time his death. The young Ritter would go on to land a starring role on the network's short-lived comedy "The Class" (2006-07) as well as continue to hone his comic and dramatic abilities in film and on television.pts to field Ritter vehicles, mostly in a romantic comedy vein, but nothing quite stuck. The critically acclaimed "Hooperman" (ABC, 1987-89) came the closest, casting him as a San Francisco cop who inherits a building and must balance police work with a being a landlord, as well as a burgeoning romance with the young woman (Deborah Farentino) he installs as the super. After "Hooperman" was cancelled, he also joined the cast of ABC's "Anything But Love" (1989-1992) as a competitor for the heart of Jamie Lee Curtis. On "Hearts Afire" (CBS, 1992-95) he starred as a conservative U.S. senator's staffer, with Markie Post as his feisty, liberal love interest.

When not taping, he filled out his work schedule with a raft of lead roles in feature and made-for-TV movies, most notably Blake Edwards' ribald 1989 romp, "Skin Deep" â¿¿ best known for Ritter's glow-in-the-dark condom scene â¿¿ "The Dreamer of Oz: the L. Frank Baum Story" (NBC, 1990); ABC's ambitious miniseries treatment of Stephen King's "It" (1990); a reunion with Bogdanovich for his 1992 farce "Noises Off;" and two notable B-level comedies, "Problem Child (1990) and "Problem Child 2" (1992), in which he played the earnest, well-meaning surrogate dad to a son seemingly the spawn of hell. His A-list days ebbing, Ritter would spend the balance of his 1990s TV work relegated to by-the-numbers movies-of-the-week and "featured guest star" roles on popular series, but between the "Problem Child" series and "Hearts Afire," he would establish two relationships that would profoundly impact his life. He fell for his "Problem Child" co-star Amy Yasbeck, ending his 19-year marriage to actress Nancy Morgan in 1996 and eventually marrying Yasbeck in 1999. He also struck up a tight friendship with "Hearts Afire" supporting actor Billy Bob Thornton that would radically alter his longtime goofball image.

When "Hearts Afire" shuttered, Thornton brought Ritter into a small film project he was writing and directing, which was an expansion of his previous short film. "Sling Blade" (1996), a sweet but stark tale centering around Thornton's mentally challenged lead, Karl Childers, and his friendship with an impoverished young boy named Frank. The film became an indie breakthrough hit, winning a raft of awards, including a Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. But Ritter's supporting role proved nearly as eye-opening. He played Vaughan, the flame-haired, bespectacled gay discount store manager and the boss and friend of Frank's mother, whom he attempts valiantly but ineffectually to defend against her abusive boyfriend (Dwight Yoakam). Described by more than one reviewer as "unrecognizable," Ritter drew astonished raves for his performance, nearly overnight reinventing himself as a powerful character actor.

"Slingblade" would lead him to pepper his TV work with prominent supporting roles in a broad menu of movies, including the camp horror flick "Bride of Chucky" (1998), indie black comedy "Panic" (2000) and coming-of-age indie charmer "Tadpole" (2002). He expanded his repertoire further in 2000 by becoming the voice of "Clifford, the Big Red Dog" (2000-03) in PBS' series adaptation of the children's classic, for which he would be nominated for a Daytime Emmy every year of its run. Also in 2000, he reunited with old friend Henry Winkler to make his first appearance on Broadway in the Neil Simon play, "The Dinner Party," for which he won a Theatre World Award in 2001. In 2002, Ritter returned to ABC and his own regular series, this time as family man Paul Hennessey, whose sane and sensible parenting is abruptly challenged by the hormonal awakening of his adolescent progeny on "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (2002-05).

Never a critical favorite, "8 Simple Rules" performed well enough to be renewed. The following fall, Ritter welcomed Winkler to the show's set on Disney's Burbank lot for a guest shot on the season's fourth episode. On Sept. 11, 2003, while running lines with Winkler, Ritter felt fatigued, began to sweat and excused himself. It worsened to nausea and vomiting. Winkler later heard his old friend had gone home sick. In fact, Ritter was taken to the nearby Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, where doctors diagnosed a heart attack. Yasbeck, having rushed to the hospital, found him in an ER bed, apologetic that he might miss their daughter Stella's fifth birthday celebration that day. As doctors wheeled him into surgery, she testified later, he told her he loved her in American sign language. She never saw him alive again. In surgery, the doctors discovered the cause of the heart attack, an aortic dissection â¿¿ a tear in the body's primary blood vessel â¿¿ a rarer, often genetic and much more serious condition. He died only mere hours after entering the hospital.

After the cast of "8 Simple Rules" was informed of their star's shocking death while still on set and word of his passing reached news outlets, virtually the entire town went into mourning. Everyone from Markie Post to Winkler to Dewitt to even the long-estranged Somers made public their devastation, with Thornton too upset to make any public statements. To say that his ABC family, which included his onscreen wife Katey Sagal, were shocked at his passing was an understatement. Not only were they forced to deal with the death of a man they all adored, they also had no idea what was now to become of their show. ABC, after some deliberation, aired Ritter's first three episodes of the season, then dealt with the tragedy on-air, continuing the show as the renamed "8 Simple Rules," starting with the family dealing with Paul Hennessey's sudden death before bringing in other actors like James Garner and David Spade to try to fill the void. Ritter appeared posthumously as an uptight department store manager in the Billy Bob Thornton black comedy "Bad Santa" (2003) and via voiceover in "Clifford's Really Big Movie" (2004). Closing credits dedicated both movies to Ritter's memory, as did an episode of NBC's hit sitcom "Scrubs," in which Ritter had previously guest-starred as the errant father of lead character J.D. (Zach Braff), also a lovable goof with a penchant for pratfalls. The following year, Ritter received a posthumous Emmy nomination for "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter." Long-time friend Peter Bogdanovich, who had been scheduled to guest-star on the same episode as Winkler that fateful day, recalled to The New York Observer Ritter's disarmingly organic talents from their early work together: "There are very few peopleputedly become fa

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