DeWitt: Ritter 'so full of joy and love'
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Actor and comedian John Ritter, who gained stardom in the '70s sitcom "Three's Company," died September 11 after collapsing on the set of his current TV series.
Actress Joyce DeWitt starred with Ritter and Suzanne Somers in "Three's Company." She joined CNN's Larry King to discuss Ritter's life and legacy.
LARRY KING: How did you hear about it, Joyce?
JOYCE DEWITT: My darling sister. My sister worked for me during the time of doing "Three's Company," and she -- her husband runs every morning. He has a little radio he puts in his ears when he runs. And he was running at 6:00 a.m., and he heard the news and went back to the house. And my sister is such a compassionate person. I -- it was so impossible to believe, that I just sat there. I just sat there and I couldn't speak. I couldn't [say] anything. And she just kept talking to me and talking to me and talking to me, until I could say something.
KING: When did you last see him?
DEWITT: In May. When he had gone to New York to do the up-fronts for his wonderful new series that he is doing -- was doing. And I was there for the promos for the "Three's Company" movie.
I left the hotel to run an errand and I ran into the paparazzi and as I was walking away, they said, "you know, John Ritter's inside here." And that was the hotel that he was in. And that's the night the movie was going to be aired. And I called [and] left a message. I said, Jonathan, you're not going to believe this, I'm a block away. How can you be in New York at the same time on this day of all days? So I was getting ready to leave the hotel that night, and I got a call from him, and he said, Joycey, baby, I've got two parties to go to, several parties to go to, I got two dinners to go to, you're my date, pick you up at 7:30.
And he and Bobby Lyman came and we did the town. We went to all these places unexpectedly.
KING: Last saw him in "The Dinner Party." He was wonderful with Henry Winkler.
DEWITT: It was a wonderful show. And they were wonderful in it.
KING: What was he like to work with?
DEWITT: The best.
KING: Everyone says that.
DEWITT: But it's true. You can't say anything else because he was just so -- very talented. It's hard to remember that he's on the other side. He was so full of joy and love. And so ready to play all the time. And he could make fun out of anything. I mean, you walked down the street with him and anything within his peripheral vision was a potential prop.
KING: So that comedic ability was natural?
DEWITT: Absolutely natural. It fell out of him as if -- he had no choice. He had no choice but to spread joy. It was the nature of his very being. And it was also his conscious desire. He loved relating from his heart to your heart. And his life was so about that.
KING: Also pretty good serious actor too.
DEWITT: A marvelously talented serious actor. But people who can do comedy that well -- who can go that deeply within their own heart to share -- generally have a place of deep dramatic ability.
KING: What do you think they're going to do with the series ("8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter")?
DEWITT: I don't know.
KING: They've got two episodes done, that they think they may show, and then have him sort of die in the series.
DEWITT: Yes. Yes. I was talking with his producers yesterday, which John loved, by the way, doing this new show. When we were in New York -- and by the way, two nights later, I do want to say this, we went to the theater with his wonderful wife, Amy, so we were together these two different nights, Amy and Bobby Lyman again, and so I wouldn't want us not say that the last time I was with him was the joy of being with he and Amy together, because -- and Bob Lyman, his dear, exquisite friend.
KING: What do you think they're going to do with the show?
DEWITT: With the show they -- yesterday they really were just trying to get through this weekend of things of this nature. And this week they will have to put their heads on that. But my heart goes out to them, because to have the personal situation, and then the business situation...
KING: You're a producer. What do you think they should do?
DEWITT: I don't know. I've thought about it, just because I met all of them in May and loved them all so much instantly. And he loved them so much. There's the possibility of looking for someone, but those are huge shoes to fill.
KING: They [are] huge. "Three's Company," when you look back, that was racy, wasn't it?
DEWITT: In that day. Not anymore. But people now say, oh, we love your show. Why isn't it still on? It's so clean, it's so safe. And I was thinking, when we were on...
KING: That was a T&A show, right?
DEWITT: In the day, that's what they called it, yeah.
KING: Was that as happy an ensemble as it appeared, even though you had the break-up with Suzanne?
DEWITT: Yes. Even though there were two or three times where the situation there got very difficult and stressful for us, if you add all that together it would maybe come to one season. And we did eight seasons. So there are seven years, other than perhaps that one added all together year, but seven years of extraordinary joy. And just playing full-out all the time, led by John Ritter. Led by this incredible talent who came in every day to make sure everybody was taken care of and everybody was included, with genius falling out of him when he was having a cup of coffee or a doughnut. He was still being brilliant. He couldn't help it. Because his heart was so big.
KING: How did you get the part?
DEWITT: ABC actually saw an audition -- I did an episode of "Baretta."
DEWITT: How about that? We won't go there. And he -- ABC saw it, and -- but they were really into comedy at the time, it was a dramatic role. And then I auditioned for the Fonz's girlfriend and I was really wrong for the part. There were all these really, well-built women there, and I was like this short, little, chubby, brown-haired thing. And -- but before I got -- but I knew how to be Italian, certainly, I am and I know how to be funny. So before I got home, ABC had called to ask me not to work for another network until they found a show for me. So it was -- and I was a kid.
KING: Was "Three's Company" a hit from the start?
DEWITT: Yes. Yes. It was the second week that it was on, it went into the top 20, and then into the top 10, and stayed there for seven years. It was...
KING: It was very well written.
DEWITT: We had exquisite writers. Really, Larry, you would have loved to coming to visit. Our guest stars -- we -- the letters we got from after they guest starred were so amazing, because the entire ensemble, the cast, the crew, the staff, the brilliant crew that we worked with, our producers, who did the final rewrite on everything, it was an amazing family. And the amount of joy that was shared there, day after day after day -- that's why I think the show was such a hit. People watch it and they feel that. They know that we were playing as hard as we could.
KING: It's almost -- Johnny Cash was sick, and looked sick, you know. And was 71. That's young, but he was 70. John Ritter?
DEWITT: I know.
KING: That shouldn't have happened.
DEWITT: You know, Susan Wilcox, his dear friend and assistant for a million years -- that's the thing -- one of the things that tells you about a person acting, very much about who they are, the people around them, their closest friends, their associates have been with them since high school or college. That's John Ritter. The people in his life have been with him, friends and staff, and associates, that long. You don't leave John Ritter. You love him so much, you're so lucky to be near him. But Susan said yesterday that he went out on such a high because he loved this new show. It was such a hit. He was with his soulmate, Amy, this beautiful little daughter, three older kids who were absolutely exquisite. A marvelous relationship...
KING: Are you going to do a memorial service?
DEWITT: Yes. But we don't know when yet, because it's going to be quite a large event.
KING: Oh, I'll bet.
DEWITT: In keeping with the rather huge wonderment that was John Ritter.
KING: Not soon forgotten.
DEWITT: Impossible to forget. Impossible not to love.