The Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco paid tribute to the late John Ritter, who died 17 years ago Friday, on Sept. 11, 2003. Ritter died unexpectedly before production on 8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter Season 2 began, and the show ran two more seasons with Katey Sagal as the main star. Ritter died from an aortic dissection. He was 54.
"Can’t believe you have been gone 17 years... thank you for continuing to me make me laugh every single day," Cuoco wrote on Instagram. She included two purple hearts alongside the black and white photo of herself with Ritter laughing. The post drew hundreds of comments from fans, including many who recalled the episode of 8 Simple Rules in which Ritter's character died off-screen. "That episode of 8 Simple Rules broke my heart. You all did an amazing job to honor his memory," one fan wrote. "Truly a gem to the world. What a joy it was to watch him entertain us all for the years we got with him. Sending love to you and his family," another fan chimed in.
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Other 8 Simple Rules stars paid tribute to Ritter on Friday. Martin Spanjers shared a heartbreaking message about what Ritter was like. "He was the greatest. The most kind, genuine, loving and yes - hilarious person," Spanjers wrote. "Whether you were a random fan approaching him or the head of ABC, he would show you the same respect and gratitude with his time... looking you in the eye, joyful and remaining incredibly present. He was a mensch." The actor urged fans to support Aortic Dissection Awareness Week, which is next week.
Ritter was best known for his Emmy-winning performance as Jack Tripper on Three's Company from 1977 to 1984 and starred in dozens of beloved films, including Americathon, Problem Child, Sling Blade, and Bad Santa. He also voiced Clifford the Big Red Dog in the animated series based on the books. In 2002, he was cast as Paul Hennessy on 8 Simple Rules, which featured Cuoco in her first successful role. After Ritter's death, the show ran two more seasons with Sagal as the star. James Garner and David Spade later joined.
Cuoco later found even more success as Penny on The Big Bang Theory for 12 seasons. She is now working on her next show, The Flight Attendant, for Apple TV+. The limited series drama was shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but filming resumed in New York recently. Cuoco stars as the titular flight attendant, who wakes up in Dubai with a dead man by her side and no idea how he got there. It is based on Chris Bohjalian's novel.