Friday, September 12, 2003
John Ritter Dies at 54

Thursday night at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, Calif., John Ritter died just a week shy of his 55th birthday.

It started like any other Thursday night. The veteran movie and television star was about to rehearse with guest star and good friend Henry Winkler on the set of Ritter's sitcom, "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," when without warning he suddenly collapsed.

Ritter was rushed to the hospital with his wife Amy, 23-year-old son Jason, and co-workers by his side. Doctors were unable to save Ritter, and just before 10 p.m., the beloved actor was pronounced dead. "Extra" learned the cause was a tear in his aorta, the result of a defect no one knew about.

Thursday night at the Kenneth Cole fashion show in New York, stars like Edie Falco, Stanley Tucci, and Ileana Douglas were just receiving the tragic news. A surprised Falco said, "I knew nothing about this. This is horrible."

Ileana added, "I actually worked with John Ritter and it's just really surprising. I'm still kind of in a state of shock."

Whether they laughed at his work or worked with him, Hollywood is reeling at the loss of one of entertainment's greatest funny men.

"Extra" spoke with Ritter’s "Three’s Company" costar Suzanne Somers on the phone. Somers says, "I turned on ‘Good Morning America’ and there was Diane Sawyer saying, ‘It's always sad when we lose someone so young.’ And she said John Ritter and my heart just fell to my feet."

Somers told "Extra" about reaching Ritter's wife, Amy. She says, "The first call I made was to his wife, and we both just cried on the phone and she's just stunned. She kept saying it was inconceivable. I’m so sad for his family. We lost a good one, it was so unfinished."

Over the years, John’s costars always told "Extra" what a joy he was to work with. "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" co-star Katey Sagal said Ritter was the reason she wanted to do the show. Sagal says, "When I heard that he was doing this, I was very excited to read the script. I have always been a big fan. He's hysterically funny."

And young cast members, Kaley Cuoco, Amy Davidson, and Martin Spanjers say John embraced them and had them in stitches.

Spanjers says, "It’s amazing, it is so much fun; it is like an actor’s playground. You can’t tell when John is serious or not. He’s just a joker."

When "Extra" sat down with Ritter, he also shared his love for the cast of another show, "Scrubs," where he had a recurring role as actor Zach Braff's dad. Ritter says, "I have actually begged to have me come back and be the dad on Scrubs."

Braff adds, "He has always been a comic hero of mine. When I heard that my father was going to be in an episode, I had gone to Bill Lawrence who created the show and said you have to get John Ritter to play my dad."

Whether it was a priceless punch line, prank, or pratfall, Ritter's company will always be missed.

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