The son of a legendary country singing musician/actor (Tex) and his wife (Dorothy Fay), who was also an actress, John Ritter started out his life as Jonathan Southworth Ritter, who was born in Burbank, California, on September 17, 1948. After his father married Dorothy Fay Southworth in 1941, the couple had their first child, Tom, who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and became a lawyer, but John was destined to follow in his parents footsteps. He was enrolled at Hollywood High School, where he was a student body president, and became the most popular student ever.
After graduation from high school, he later attended the University of Southern California, where he majored in Psychology and minored in Architecture. Also in 1966, before attending college, his first appearance on TV was as a contestant on "Dating Game, The" (1965), on which he won a vacation to Lake Havasu, Arizona. After making his very first cameo appearance and a couple of years of attending school, he was induced to join an acting class taught by Nina Foch. He changed his major to Theater Arts, graduating in 1971 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Drama. He also studied acting with Stella Adler at the Harvey Lembeck Comedy Workshop. Between 1968 and 1969, he appeared in a series of stage plays in England, Scotland, Holland and in Germany. His father was entertaining troops in Germany at the same time that his son was performing at an air base there.
His acting debut was on an episode of "Hawaii Five-O" (1968), playing various roles. On "Dan August" (1970), he played a campus revolutionary, in a film which also starred Burt Reynolds and Norman Fell, who later starred with him on, "Three's Company." Then, he appeared as Reverend Matthew Fordwick on "The Waltons" (1972). His guest-starring spot was so popular, that he was interested in having a recurring role on the show. But, he continued making more guest appearances on "Medical Center" (1969), "M*A*S*H" (1972), "The Bob Newhart Show" (1972), "The Streets of San Francisco" (1972), "Kojak" (1973), and, once again, a preacher on "Rhoda" (1974), "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970), among many others. While working on "The Waltons" (1972), he received word that his legendary father had passed away, just a day after New Years' Day in 1974.
The following year in late 1975, ABC picked up the rights for a new series on a British sitcom about, "A Man About The House," and Ritter beat out 50 people including a young Billy Crystal, to get a major role. The first pilot was trashed, and in order for it to be improved, Joyce DeWitt, an unknown actress, played the role of Janet Wood, the following year, along with Susan Lanier as the dumb blonde, Chrissy Snow. Unlike the first pilot, it did better but the producers still needed a change and Suzanne Somers came to the show, at the very last minute to play Chrissy. The series, "Three's Company" (1977), was born. When it debuted as a mid-season replacement, it became a ratings hit, like many other sitcoms of the 70s, and it focused mainly on his character, Jack Tripper, an admirable chef who lived in an apartment with two attractive ladies, while pretending to be gay.
Before playing Jack Tripper on the small screen, he also made his box office debut in the movie Nickelodeon (1976). Two years later, he worked with his close friend, Jenny Sullivan, in Breakfast in Bed (1978), and the following year, played Pres. Chet Roosevelt in the movie Americathon (1979). Also in 1977, he and his brother emceed the Annual United Cerebral Palsy Telethon (a neurological condition particularly close to their hearts because of Tom's triumph over it) and racked up millions of dollars for the cause in the 15+ years he ran the telethon. He also became more popular with movies such as Hero at Large (1980), and They All Laughed (1981). In 1980, when "Three's Company" (1977) was sold into syndication, the show became a ratings phenomenon, during its last 2 years. However, at the height of Ritter's popularity, he won a Golden Globe in 1983 for Best Performance by an Actor, after being nominated twice for Best TV Actor in a Musical-Comedy Series, and one year later, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In a Comedy Series, after being nominated twice. By its eighth season, the show began to drop in the ratings and was cancelled in 1984. After the cancellation he starred in its spin-off, called, "Three's A Crowd," (1984), starring Mary Cadorette, but it lasted for only one season.
His first animated movie was that of a man turning into a dragon, whose job was to defeat Ommendon in _Flight of Dragons, The (1986)_ , on which he played Peter Dickinson. The following year, he came back to series television as: Detective Harry Hooperman in the comedy/drama, "Hooperman" (1987), for which he was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1988, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and won a People's Choice Award for his role. During and after his role on "Hooperman," he continued doing more box-office films, from 1987-1992, such as Skin Deep (1989), in which he played a womanizing, drunken, alcoholic writer whose life seemed to be falling apart at the seams. Also, in this movie, he was pleased to see his mentor, acting coach Nina Foch, and the two worked closely together, after all the years he'd been in school.
In the two-part movies, Problem Child (1990), and in Problem Child 2 (1991), he played the surrogate father of a rebellious little boy who continues to wreck havoc unto the family and to make fun out of everybody. He also worked on Noises Off... (1992), and _Stay Tuned_ (1992), before returning to another TV series called "Hearts Afire" (1992). On this sitcom, he played John Hartman, who was an aide to a senator whose life was also complicated by his girlfriend's father, and Billy Bob Thornton played Billy Bob Davis. Like his first series, "Three's Company" (1977), the show had well-written scripts, but failed to reach a massive audience, which led to its cancellation in 1995. While he was working on "Hearts Afire", he played Ward Nelson on North (1994). Then, he had the opportunity to work with former "Hearts Afire" actor Billy Bob Thornton, in the movie, Sling Blade (1996), in which Ritter played the gay manager of a department store and Thornton was Karl Childers, a institutionalized man who was hospitalized since the childhood murder of his mother and her lover. Thornton had wrote and directed the movie, giving Ritter/Thornton the best reviews. He provided the voice of Clifford in the PBS animated series "Clifford the Big Red Dog" (2000).
He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award, 3 times in a row, making it seven Emmy nominations in his 35-year career. In 1999, he was also nominated for an Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, playing the role of George Madison on an episode of "Ally McBeal" (1997). Soon afterwards, he landed his last television role in "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (2002), based on the popular book. On this sitcom, he played Paul Hennessey, a loving, yet rational dad, who laid down the ground rules for his three children, and dealt with such topics as curfews, sex, drugs, getting arrested, etc. The show was a ratings winner in its first season and won a People's Choice Award for Best New Comedy and also won for Favorite Comedy Series by the Family Awards! While working "8 Simple Rules", he also starred in his second-to-last film, Manhood (2003). That same year, he first felt ill while rehearsing on set, and was rushed across the street to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, where he was diagnosed with an aorta dissection, which meant in layman's terms, an unrecognized flaw of the heart. He underwent surgery and died on September 11, 2003, just days shy of his 55th birthday. In the years that he worked, John Ritter was a loving comedian and a passionate actor, who wanted to make everybody laugh. After his death, his eldest son, Jason, following in his father's footsteps, plays the role of Kevin, a young man who was a high school sport star but is now paralyzed for life in the highly-rated drama "Joan of Arcadia" (2003).