Suzanne Somers, who became a star in the 1970s on the hit ABC comedy “Three’s Company” and later parlayed her fame into significant wealth as a health and fitness fitness guru and author, is dead. She passed away Sunday at 76.
In a statement, Somers’ longtime publicist R. Couri Hay said, “Suzanne Somers passed away peacefully at home in the early morning hours of October 15. She survived an aggressive form of breast cancer for over 23 years. Suzanne was surrounded by her loving husband Alan, her son Bruce and her immediate family. Her family was gathered to celebrate her 77th birthday on October 16. Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life, and want to thank her millions of fans and followers who loved her dearly.”
Somers first gained public attention as they hot blonde in the white Thunderbird in George Lucas’ hit “American Graffiti” in 1973. After a series of small roles, she finally hit paydirt after being cast as one of the pair of female leads (along with Joyce DeWitt) opposite John Ritter in “Three’s Company,” based on the British series “Man About the House.” Somers was “dumb blonde” Chrissy Snow who endeared herself to the audience in a show whose characters embodied improbable chemistry. The ABC sitcom quickly became a breakout hit in the 1977-78 TV season and ranked third in the Nielsen ratings for the year while telling the wacky tale of three chaste roommates.
“Three’s Company” remained a smash through its first three seasons. But things hit a roadblock in 1980 when Somers demanded a fivefold salary increase to $150,000 per episode – reportedly the same amount being pulled in by her costar Ritter – along with 10 percent of the show’s profits. But the network and studio refused, and Somers was limited in the fourth season to short cameos, ultimately written out of the show and replaced in the cast by Jenilee Harrison.
The series would go on for several more seasons, and Somers’ attempt to transition to feature films never gained much traction. Neither did a push for a Vegas act as a singer and entertainer at the MGM Grand and Las Vegas Hilton. So Somers stuck with television and continued to find steady work, first for two years on the syndicated comedy “She’s the Sheriff” and then, in 1991, back on ABC with the new blended family comedy “Step by Step” alongside Patrick Duffy. It stuck around for eight seasons, the final one on CBS.
But by the late 1990s, Somers had moved on from conventional showbiz, founding a multimillion-dollar fitness empire. She took to TV infomercials to pitch the ThighMaster and later the ButtMaster that made she and her family wealthy. (At the time of her death today, her net worth was estimated at $100 million.) The exercise equipment led to a series of other health and beauty products bearing the Somers brand and more than two dozen books on wellness, aging, weight loss and sex. There was also a 1988 memoir, “Keeping Secrets,” that was adapted into an ABC made-for-TV movie.
Somers also returned periodically to show business over the past quarter-century. She cohosted an edition of “Candid Camera” in 1997, fronted a 2005 one-woman musical show on Broadway entitled “The Blonde in the Thunderbird” and hosted the 2012 Lifetime talk show “The Suzanne Show” in 2012. She’s been married to her husband Alan Hamel since 1977.
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