John Ritter is a comedic institution.
He made millions of Americans laugh on a weekly basis on two hit sitcoms that aired decades apart. And for those few who never watched an episode of “Three’s Company” or “8 Simple Rules .æ.æ. for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” they probably caught the funnyman in one of his less well-received series, TV guest spots, movie and theater roles or even telethon appearances.
Ritter was everywhere from the height of his “Three’s Company” fame in the 1970s and ’80s to his death in 2003 at age 54.
Now comes a book from Ritter’s widow, actress Amy Yasbeck.
“With Love and Laughter, John Ritter” presents itself as a celebration of the man.
And it is.
It just needs a little more Ritter.
Sure, Yasbeck hits the biographical high points — Ritter’s relationship with his famous father, Tex, a Western film star and country musician; the early years in show business and the later breakthroughs; and the time the couple spent together.
But whole chapters are devoted to Yasbeck’s journey: her childhood, acting career and so on.
Yasbeck hasn’t quite achieved a Ritterian level of fame despite a successful career that included a regular role on “Wings” and appearances in big-screen hits such as “Pretty Woman” and “Problem Child,” co-starring her future husband.
And it’s not that Yasbeck’s life isn’t worth examining, but considering “John Ritter” is in the title, a reader might be expected to assume the book is largely about the actor.
While the Yasbeck portion may be more than advertised, there’s still a lot to like in “With Love and Laughter, John Ritter.”
The book — so titled, by the way, because it was the wording Ritter used in signing autographs — includes humorous anecdotes about a guest spot Ritter and Yasbeck did on “The Cosby Show”; their awkward appearance at a Labor Day party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor; and Ritter hamming it up with his comedy idol, Jerry Lewis.
The real meat of the book, though, comes at the very end, when Yasbeck provides a moving account of Ritter’s last day and the aftermath of his sudden death, which came heartbreakingly not only on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks but also on their daughter Stella’s fifth birthday and a week before their wedding anniversary.
Yasbeck also does an excellent job of examining what she says was a misunderstanding among the media and the public as to the cause of Ritter’s passing.
Reported by some at the time as an undetectable heart defect, Ritter died of an aortic dissection, or a tear in the aorta that was, in fact, she says, detectable.