“Three’s Company” star John Ritter died in September of 2003 of an aortic dissection, or a tear in the aorta of his heart. He was 54 years old.
But before he died, Ritter was a very happy man. And in a 1985 interview backstage in his Los Angeles dressing room, Ritter shared his key to a happy life.
Ritter said his work on “Three’s Company” and other projects as well as his family were what made him happy. And he encouraged people to be more open as they went about their days to live more focused, present lives.
‘Three’s Company’ Star John Ritter Had Found Happiness
Ritter’s interviewer had just pointed out that Ritter had a spouse and children he loved and did work he loved to do. Then Ritter stopped him.
“You can stop there, because that’s it,” Ritter interrupted. “That’s the key, yeah.”
“If you like to get up every morning and go and do – you know, I mean there’s some times when it’s really been tense, and everything, but – basically if you just come from an open heart I think you’ve got a head start,” Ritter said.
Ritter also revealed that his father, Tex Ritter, hadn’t wanted him to be an actor. Tex just didn’t want his son to starve, John said, so he encouraged him to be a doctor or something instead. But John just couldn’t do it. He loved acting too much.
Fortunately, Ritter became quite a successful actor, starring in two hit shows, “Three’s Company” and “8 Simple Rules… For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” over the course of his career.
Ritter’s Death Became the Subject of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
After Ritter’s death, Ritter’s family later sued the cardiologist and radiologist who treated Ritter, arguing that they treated Ritter for a heart attack rather than an aortic dissection on the day of his death, according to the Associated Press. The family sought $67 million, their estimate of Ritter’s lost potential earnings.
Actress Amy Yasbeck, Ritter’s widow, testified at the trial. She brought the case along with Ritter’s four children. Actor, director and producer Henry Winkler also testified. Winkler met Ritter at ABC’s 25th anniversary celebration, around the time that “Three’s Company” began. And Winkler had been on the set of “8 Simple Rules” on the day that Ritter landed in the hospital.
“We were reminiscing,” Winkler said on the stand. “He was sweating [and said], ‘I really need to get some water.’ I said ‘I really need to memorize my lines.’ And he went one way and I went the other. And that was the last time I saw him.”
Defense attorneys argued that a body scan two years before Ritter’s death had showed a normal aorta with no signs of a dissection. However, the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital testified that the doctors should have taken a chest X-ray when Ritter arrived at the hospital, which would have shown the tear in Ritter’s aorta.
But a jury sided with the doctors in 2008, finding that Ritter had failed to follow the radiologist’s advice that he see a doctor after the radiologist performed a body scan on Ritter in 2001.
Nonetheless, Ritter’s widow and kids took home a tidy $14 million in other settlements as a result of Ritter’s untimely death.