|Always the clown: Ritter "shaves" with cell phone at last year's Emmys.|
Emmy-winning performer John Ritter, star of the hit ABC series 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, died of an undetected heart ailment last night at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. He was 54.
His sudden and unexpected death came little more than a week before 8 Simple Rules was scheduled to begin its second season September 23, and just five days short of Ritter’s 55th birthday.
Doctors described the cause of death as "dissection of the aorta," resulting from an unrecognized, undetectable flaw in the heart valve, according to Ritter’s media representatives.
His career spanned thirty years of stage, movies and television. Ritter became a national TV star in the long-running comedy series Three’s Company, for which he received an Emmy in 1984, a Golden Globe and a People’s Choice award for his role as Jack Tripper.
He went on to star in the series Hooperman, receiving Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and winning a People’s Choice Award. Following that series, he starred in the comedy series Hearts Afire, which ran from 1992 through 1995.
"Even when John Ritter played a flawed character, his warmth and humanity always came through," said TV Academy Chairman Bryce Zabel. "That’s why we liked him and the characters he made famous, and that’s why we will miss him greatly."
In 8 Simple Rules, Ritter played Paul Hennessey, a former sportswriter who decides to stay at home and help raise the kids, while his wife, played by Katey Sagal, returns to work. The show received the People’s Choice Award for favorite new television comedy and the Teen Choice Award for favorite comedy series.
In addition to his series work, Ritter starred in more than 25 television movies, and guest-starred on many popular television series including Scrubs, Felicity, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Ally McBeal, which earned Ritter the last of his four prime-time Emmy nominations in 1999.
Ritter also starred in many feature films, including Miramax’s Bad Santa, scheduled for release November 26. His resume also includes more than 50 stage appearances nationwide. Among those were a nine-month starring role on Broadway in Neil Simon’s "The Dinner Party," which won a Theatre World Award and the 2001 Outer Critics Circle Award.
In June 2003, he was honored with Music Center’s Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement.
A native of Los Angeles, Ritter was the youngest son of Western film star and country music legend Tex Ritter. He graduated from Hollywood High School, where he was student body president, and from the University of Southern California with a B.F.A. degree in drama.
Ritter is survived by his wife, Amy Yasbeck, their daughter, Stella and three children, Carly, Tyler and Jason, from his first marriage to Nancy Morgan.
Funeral arrangements were pending.