‘Three’s Company’: What Widow Of John Ritter Did to Make his Funeral a ‘Celebration’

by Suzanne Halliburton

The sudden death of John Ritter nearly two decades ago stunned the TV world. Fans loved him from “Three’s Company.” And, his new show was a hit, reaching even more fans.

Ritter was only 54. He had a beautiful wife and family. His death was heartbreaking.

Ritter hadn’t been outwardly sick. In fact, he was in the midst of rehearsal for “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenaged Daughter.” While on set at Walt Disney Studios, Ritter complained of chest pains. He was sweating and vomiting.

Doctors at the hospital initially determined he was suffering a heart attack. It wasn’t until hours later that further diagnosis revealed he suffered an aortic dissection. He died that night. His family was devastated. His death occurred on daughter Stella’s fifth birthday.

So how do you honor the life of John Ritter and the impact he had on so many lives?

Here’s How Mourners Honored John Ritter

Amy Yasbeck, his widow, had ideas. They’d only been married for four years, but had been together for more than a decade. The two met when both were cast in the movie “Problem Child.” They starred together in the sequel and appeared together in an episode of “The Cosby Show.” Yasbeck was on the show “Wings.” And Ritter guest-starred as her estranged husband.

Stella came along in 1998. They married at the Murphy Theater in Ohio the following year. Ritter was married once before. He and his former wife shared three children, including son Jason, a successful actor. He was just beginning his career with his father died.

Outside of acting, John Ritter was a big fan of the Southern California Trojans. When he first enrolled at the school, he majored in psychology. But he switched to theater arts and earned his degree from USC’s prestigious School of Dramatic Arts. So Yasbeck wanted to incorporate her husband’s love for his school in the memorial service.

The funeral service was at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. Amy Yasbeck told the mourners “Sorry, John, but tonight we are here to love you out loud.”

Peter Bogdanovich, who earned an Academy Award for best director, helped eulogize Ritter He’d been a guest star on the last episode Ritter taped of his sitcom.

He said of his friend: “What John seemed to be, he was.”

The funeral also featured a filmed tribute to John Ritter.

Director Marty Davidson said the crowd was emotionally spent by the time the memorial neared its end.

“Fight On” For USC Perfect Way To End A Memorial

Amy Yasbeck saved the surprise until then. The USC Trojan band, in full uniform, marched down the aisles of the theater. “Fight On” is the perfect farewell for a USC alum.

Davidson recalled: “In came the start of what was a hundred-piece marching band from USC in full regalia. They got everybody — probably 200 people — on their feet and marching out on to Hollywood Boulevard with them holding up traffic and going across the street to a bowling alley.”

Mourners wiped their eyes, took a deep breath and started laughing. As Davidson said, they started having fun as they remembered their good friend.

Ritter’s show continued on without him until 2005.

Want to read more Outsider coverage on John Ritter and his role in classic television? Click here, here and here.