Ritter's Romp on 'Three's Company' Changed TV

Somers became an instant hit as dumb blonde Chrissy, and her pinup poster was requisite on the wall of every adolescent boy. But in 1980, when the show was sold into syndication, Somers wanted 10 percent of the take.

Thus began a feud, with Somers pitted against Ritter and Dewitt, that would last for years. Eventually, producers wrote her out of the show.

"We connected on such a close level when we were working together the way a sister and a brother would. And when we became estranged we were both so hurt because we couldn't believe that one another had turned on one another," says Somers.

"I loved John Ritter. John Ritter, when I was doing the show, was who I was aligned with. We were a united front."

Moving On, Moving Up A string of actresses filled the dumb blonde role, as DeWitt and Ritter kept the show alive until 1984, through several cast changes and a few spin-offs.

Ironically, before joining the free-frolicking Three's Company, Ritter was best known for playing a minister on The Waltons. He won an Emmy in the show's final season, and endured through the years as one of the most familiar faces on TV, often as a guest star in such shows as Ally McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Felicity.

Ritter, who was 54, earned high praise for his work in the 1996 film Sling Blade as well as his appearance on Broadway in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party.

In ABC's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Ritter's final sitcom role was as a dad trying to rein in two daughters, much as Chrissy and Janet's parents tried to rein them in.

The times change, and the younger generation becomes the parents. TV viewers embraced Ritter in both roles, a rare accomplishment for any actor.

"John is in a class with the truly great, great comedians," says Martin Short, "I've seen very few people have the grace and sincerity that he would combine when he would do physical comedy, you know, as great as anyone ever did .

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