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For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of John Ritter.
For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of John Ritter.

I remember being six years old and watching "Three's Company" in my basement. I rarely understood the jokes or exactly why Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley were so edgy around Ritter's character, Jack Tripper, but I remember laughing hysterically every time Jack got hit in the face with a door, fell over the couch or generally loused things up with his extreme clumsiness.

As I grew older, I began to better appreciate the layers Ritter put into his character and the work he put into making Tripper a believable and lovable character.

Later, I grew to appreciate the stellar work of Mr. Ritter in films like "Problem Child," a movie I still watch frequently. He was always incredibly funny, but I could always see the heart behind the character's pratfalls and jokes. I still remember the first time I watched "Problem Child II" and started crying when I believed Ben Healy (Ritter) was going to marry the evil LaWanda.

Last year, I watched his newest work, "8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter." John was still incredibly hilarious, but there was a touching depth behind his portrayal of the bewildered father of two teenage daughters. In many ways, he traveled full circle from the carefree single guy he played in "Three's Company" to the more burdened, but still lovable father of three, Paul Hennessy, in "8 Simple Rules." I feel lucky to have shared that journey with him through my television set.

For me, the piece de resistance of Ritter's work was definitely his appearance in "Ted," an episode of the television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

In the episode, he played Ted, a seemingly normal guy who was dating Buffy's mom Joyce. Ritter's performance was dead-on as the all-around great guy Ted seems to be in the beginning. Of course, it's "Buffy" so Ted wasn't that great a guy - he was a homicidal chauvinistic robot with some interesting ideas of right and wrong.

Even in the midst of what many would consider an unbelievable plot line, Ritter shone. His portrayal was incredibly convincing, right down to his robot stutter when a letter opener to an important fuse causes a short circuit. "Buffy" has received critical acclaim for numerous things, but few guest performances on the show matched the intensity and perfection of Ritter's Ted.

And so, when I heard that the world had lost Ritter, I did what any Ritterfan worth his or her salt would do: I locked myself in my room and watched the "Three's Company" marathon all weekend. During the hours when it wasn't showing, I would turn to DVDs and watch the Problem Child films, "Ted" and "North." I also watched episodes of other TV shows he'd appeared in, like "Scrubs," "Law and Order: SVU," "NewsRadio" and "Ally McBeal."

In the end, despite the tragedy of his death, he still made me laugh.

Farewell John Ritter. I'll remember you.

Published Thursday 18 September 2003 in "The Advocate," Minnesota State University Moorhead.
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