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John Ritter Movies and TV Shows: A Look Back at the Beloved Funnyman’s Life and Career

Millions of viewers took to heart the catchy theme song that proposed, “Come and knock on our door,” when they tuned into Three’s Company each week from 1977 to 1984. With John Ritter playing the part of Jack Tripper, a struggling culinary student living with two female roommates, it went on to be one of his most successful roles of all of the movies and TV shows of his career.

Opposite Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers, much of the comedy centered around Jack’s pretending to be gay to keep the old-fashioned landlords appeased over the co-ed living arrangements. It was a different time with different social norms back then, but Ritter nonetheless received an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for this role in 1984.

John Ritter movies and TV shows
Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter and Suzanne Somers, 1979Getty

However, Three’s Company wasn’t Ritter’s only claim to fame. The Burbank, California native performed on Broadway and appeared in over a total of 100 films and television series.

Born Johnathan Southworth Ritter, John was a son of the legendary singing cowboy and matinee star Tex Ritter, and his mother, Dorothy Fay, was an actress. Taking all of that into consideration, John was destined to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

John Ritter movies and TV shows
Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter and Priscilla Barnes, 1983Getty

Ritter was enrolled in Hollywood High School and then attended the University of Southern California as a psychology major, but after his first TV appearance in 1966 as a contestant on The Dating Game, where he won a vacation to Lake Havasu, Arizona, John changed his major to Theater Arts.

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While still in college, Ritter traveled for a year, acting in a series of stage plays in England, Scotland, Holland and Germany. His dad tried to discourage his son from an acting career, but lived long enough to see him in a recurring role as Reverend Matthew Fordwick on The Waltons from 1972 to 1976, which was Tex’s favorite TV series. It was while working on The Waltons that John received word that his legendary father had passed away.

John Ritter movies and TV shows
John Ritter, his dog and wife Nancy Morgan, 1985Getty

Here’s a look back on some of the small and big screen roles of one of Hollywood’s most endearing actors.

John Ritter movies and TV shows

Dan August (1970 – 1971)

This TV show stars Burt Reynolds and Norman Fell, who later starred with Ritter on Three’s Company. Ritter played a campus revolutionary in one episode, and it was his first TV acting role.

John continued to make more guest appearances on shows such as Medical Center, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Nickelodeon (1976)

Before playing Jack Tripper, Ritter made his box office debut in this Peter Bogdanovich movie as Franklin Frank. The movie stars Ryan O’Neal and Burt Reynolds.

Breakfast In Bed (1977)

John Ritter, 1977
John Ritter, 1977Getty

In this comedy/drama, Ritter plays one of the starring roles as Paul.

Ringo (1978)

Carrie Fisher, John Ritter and Ringo Starr, 1978
Carrie Fisher, John Ritter and Ringo Starr, 1978Getty

A longtime Beatles fan, Ritter played Ringo Starr’s manager on the television special Ringo.

Americathon (1979)

Ritter played desperate President Chet Roosevelt, who decides to make a last ditch effort to save his cash-strapped country by raising money with a telethon.

Three’s Company (1977 – 1984)

Based on the British sitcom Man About the House, Ritter beat out 50 people for the role, including a young Billy Crystal. Three’s Company became a ratings hit for ABC and made John Ritter a household name, perhaps the most popular work of all the movies and TV shows of his career.

He and Joyce DeWitt’s favorite episode was titled “Up In The Air,” where he had a long comedic dance that earned him an Emmy nomination. His least favorite episode was “Chrissy and the Guru,” where he imitated a walrus.

Hero at Large (1980)

Ritter is Steve Nichols, a struggling actor who unwittingly stops a robbery while wearing the Captain Avenger costume from a film he is hired to promote.

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Wanting to impress the pretty neighbor across the hall, Nichols decides to put his toe into superhero waters, but it’s more difficult than he ever thought.

They All Laughed (1981)

Ritter, who plays New York private detective Charles Rutledge, as well as his partner, is hired to follow the beautiful young wife of a jealous husband. Charles eventually falls for the woman, played by Dorothy Strattan.

Hooperman (1987 – 1989)

Ritter returned to TV as Detective Harry Hooperman in this comedy/drama from Steven Bochco, for which he received an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination. This was his first regular TV role after Three’s Company.

Hooperman inherits a run-down apartment building and hires Susan Smith (Debrah Farentino) to run it. Of course, a relationship follows, and Hooperman must juggle work, love and the behavior of Bijoux the dog.

Skin Deep (1989)

A change of pace role for Ritter, who plays the lead as a womanizing, alcoholic writer whose life seemed to be falling apart in this films from Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther series).

Problem Child (1990) & Problem Child 2 (1991)

In this hit feature comedy, Ritter plays Ben Healey, the surrogate father of rebellious seven year old, Junior, who wreaks havoc on the family. The youngster is incorrigible, but is nonetheless adopted by a loving man (Ritter) and his wacky, obnoxious wife Flo (Amy Yasbeck).

In the film, the boy is kidnapped by his so-called pen pal and Ben has to rescue the little monster. So successful was the first Problem Child film that a sequel was released just one year later. Junior discovers there’s an even more impertinent, mean-spirited child than himself…and it’s a girl!

Hearts Afire (1992 – 1995): John Ritter movies and TV shows

The actor returned to TV from 1992 to 1995 as John Hartman, aide to a US Senator, on this TV sitcom along with Billy Bob Thornton as Billy Bob Davis. The sitcom also stars Markie Post. Thornton and Ritter remained friends throughout the years.

Sling Blade (1996): John Ritter movies and TV shows

This time out, Ritter plays the kindhearted, gay manager of a department store in this film, getting the opportunity to reunite with Billy Bob Thornton.

8 Simple Rules (2002) John Ritter movies and TV shows

This was Ritter’s last TV role, based on the popular book of the same name. He played Paul Hennessey, a loving, yet rational dad who laid down the ground rules for his three children, especially his oldest daughter (Kaley Cuoco).

The show was a comedy, but raised serious topics such as curfews, sex, drugs, arrests and other timely issues. The series was an immediate hit and won a People’s Choice Award for Best New Comedy.

Bad Santa (2003): John Ritter movies and TV shows

Back with his Sling Blade buddy, Ritter is re-teamed with Billy Bob Thornton who plays the worst Santa ever. Ritter plays Bob Chipeska in this not-for-kids comedy.

There were also many made-for-TV movies where Ritter had star billing alongside some Hollywood notables: Gramps (1995), co-starring Andy Griffith; The Colony (1996), with Hal Linden; Danielle Steel’s Heartbeat, with Polly Draper; and It Came From The Sky in 1999, with Yasmine Bleeth.

He also made guest appearances on television shows such as Felicity, Ally McBeal, Scrubs and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name a few.

In 2003, Ritter was rehearsing 8 Simple Rules on set when he felt ill and was transported across the street to Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank. He was mistakenly treated for a heart attack, but died from an undiagnosed aortic dissection — a tear in the wall of the aorta. He will always be remembered for his innate desire to make everyone laugh.

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