Suzanne Somers, renowned for her portrayal of a lovable but naive character on the sitcom “Three’s Company,” subsequently made headlines when her demand for equal pay with the show’s male lead resulted in her dismissal. She passed away on Sunday at her residence in Palm Springs, California. She was just one day shy of her 77th birthday. The cause of her death was breast cancer, as confirmed by her daughter-in-law, Caroline Somers.
“Three’s Company” debuted in 1977, chronicling the escapades of two roommates, Chrissy Snow, played by Ms. Somers, and Janet Wood, portrayed by Joyce DeWitt, who welcomed a male roommate, Jack Tripper, played by John Ritter, to circumvent their landlord’s restrictions on cohabitation. They pretended that Jack was gay to maintain the charade, resulting in comical mishaps, slapstick humor, and witty one-liners.
By its fifth season, “Three’s Company” had become one of the country’s most beloved sitcoms. Ms. Somers’ contentious contract negotiations with ABC gained significant attention. In 1982, The New York Times reported that she had sought a pay increase from $30,000 to $50,000 per episode, with later reports suggesting $150,000 to match Mr. Ritter’s salary. However, she was not granted the pay raise and was subsequently let go.
Ms. Somers first gained notice with a brief appearance in the 1973 film “American Graffiti,” where she uttered the iconic line “I love you” to Richard Dreyfuss. This earned her a spot on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, where she was introduced as “the mysterious blonde in the Thunderbird from ‘American Graffiti.'” This appearance led to her audition for “Three’s Company.”
In the years following her stint on “Three’s Company,” Ms. Somers remained a familiar face in film and television, including roles in the 1990s sitcom “Step by Step” and co-hosting the television series “Candid Camera,” in addition to numerous talk show appearances. However, her lasting impact came from her business ventures, notably the ThighMaster, a popular fitness device she and her husband, Alan Hamel, promoted in infomercials, selling over 10 million units. She also authored more than 27 books, with 14 becoming bestsellers, often focusing on topics related to the body and aging.
While some of her endorsed methods, such as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, have faced criticism from medical professionals, Ms. Somers’ foundation for business was rooted in her enduring message of sexual positivity, which she had championed since her time at “Three’s Company.”
Suzanne Marie Mahoney was born on October 16, 1946, in San Bruno, California. Her parents, Francis and Marion (Turner) Mahoney, provided her with a diverse background. Suzanne faced controversy during her education, including expulsion from a Catholic high school for love letters she had written.
She eventually graduated from Capuchino High School and attended Lone Mountain College before dropping out in 1965 due to pregnancy. She married the father, Bruce Somers, and later divorced him in the late 1960s. Her career took off when she worked as a prize model on a game show hosted by Alan Hamel, whom she eventually married in 1977.
Survived by her daughter-in-law, Caroline Somers, husband Alan Hamel, son Bruce Somers, two stepchildren, Stephen and Leslie Hamel, two siblings, Maureen Gilmartin and Dan Mahoney, two granddaughters, and four step-grandchildren, Ms. Somers demonstrated resilience after her initial breast cancer diagnosis over 20 years ago. She transitioned from selling jewelry, apparel, and weight loss products to promoting organic skincare, cleaning products, and hormone therapy.
Throughout her career, Ms. Somers maintained an active schedule of live performances. Her Broadway show, “The Blonde in the Thunderbird,” had mixed reviews and closed after 15 performances, but she found success in Las Vegas, where she entertained audiences for years with extravagant costumes and glitter. Even in the face of challenges, such as a fall from a private tram on her Palm Springs estate, she continued to embody a spirited and vivacious persona, as noted during a 2020 profile in The New York Times.