Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, and when you’re a celebrity, death comes with a whole different set of challenges. Rather than experiencing painful moments in private, Hollywood stars have to process all of their grief in the public eye.
No one knows that experience better than Amy Yasbeck, who tragically lost her husband John Ritter in 2003. The actress recently opened up about what it was like to see her husband stricken by a rare medical condition, and her comments took fans by surprise.
Long before Ritter ever met his wife or the devastating disease that took his life, the actor was born into a Hollywood family. From the start, it seemed like he was destined for a life of show business success.
His dad was Tex Ritter, a singing cowboy who made his name in both the music and film industries. John, however, started to consider going into another field during his teenage years.
He enrolled in the University of Southern California with a major in psychology; John intended to use his degree to go into politics. But before long, he found his true calling.
Ritter changed his major to theater and started taking classes at the university’s School of Dramatic Arts. Before long, he was appearing in plays and moving towards commercial success.
After graduating, Ritter made his television debut alongside Burt Reynolds in Dan August. It was a small role, but it gave the young actor confidence. He had what it took to make it in Hollywood.
He would go on to make guest appearances on several beloved TV programs, like Hawaii 5-0 and M*A*S*H. But Ritter wanted something more: a consistent role to call his very own.
He would get his wish in 1972, playing the recurring character Reverend Matthew Fordwick on The Waltons. Four years later, however, Ritter would finally get the chance to be a headliner.
In 1976, ABC decided to adapt the British show Man About the House to American TV in the form of Three’s Company. Ritter famously played Jack Tripper, the comedic male lead.
The role made Ritter a star, but his work was far from done. He continued to appear in a variety of projects, ranging from acting on Broadway to the voicing of Clifford the Big Red Dog.
Ritter had a personal life outside of work, though. He was married to Nancy Morgan for nearly 20 years; after their divorce, he got remarried and settled down with actress Amy Yasbeck.
While Ritter was reportedly critical of Yasbeck’s appearance when they first met, the pair quickly became inseparable. The couple supported each other’s professional ambitions; John’s role on 8 Simple Rules was no exception.
During filming, Ritter embraced his role as Paul Hennessy, a strict dad trying to protect his teenage daughter. One day, however, he wasn’t feeling too enthused about being on the set.
Ritter told Henry Winkler, his old friend who was guest starring on the show, that he was feeling tired. He had taken a nap earlier in the day, but it didn’t seem to help.
Los Angeles Times
Filming continued, but Ritter eventually pulled director James Widdoes aside; he was sweating profusely and didn’t seem like himself. “I feel a little sick to my stomach,” he told his boss.
Loonis Chaffee School
Ritter went to his trailer to rest, hoping that he could shake off his funk. But things got worse, rather than better. He started throwing up and complaining of chest pains.
Eventually the actor hit a breaking point and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors suspected he was having a heart attack, but there turned out to be a much bigger problem.
Ritter had an aortic dissection, a tear in the inner lining of the body’s primary blood vessel. Doctors rushed him into surgery, hoping to repair the split before it got any larger.
Unfortunately their efforts were in vain. Ritter died on the operating table. His family held a private funeral a few days later and the actor was buried in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
Yasbeck was understandably shaken by the loss of her husband. Rather than wallowing in grief, however, she decided to channel her emotions into a good cause that honored Ritter’s legacy.
The Washington Times
She created the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness of aortic dissection. She even took inspiration from John’s final acting gig to spread the word.
The Pink Snob
The foundation’s website lists several “Ritter Rules” designed to help people recognize the symptoms of aortic dissection. If even one life is saved, John’s death won’t have been in vain.
“You can’t alleviate your own suffering,” Yasbeck said. “But to alleviate someone else’s suffering or to have them be able to avoid that with knowledge and medicine, it’s everything. It becomes a joyful thing.”
Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy but, as Yasbeck learned, channeling their legacy into a meaningful project can help heal the pain. Another celebrity learned the same lesson.
Elisabeth Anne Haapaniemi knew she wanted to be a performer long before she met Patrick Swayze. She trained extensively in ballet as a child and joined the Houston Ballet Dance Company as a teen.
During her time here, Elisabeth worked to hone her craft for the stage, though it seemed there was more in store for her there than mere dance lessons. While training under the company’s director, Elisabeth was introduced to her son Patrick.
The two dancers immediately hit it off, with Swayze — who was four years her senior — admitting that Elisabeth was unlike any girl he’d ever met before. “I knew she was the smartest chick I’d ever met in my life,” he told People in 2007.
And smart she was, as Elisabeth was quick to see right through Patrick each time he tried to charm her with his good looks and charisma. “If I started putting on a pose or doing my Casanova routine, [Elisabeth] would turn away and not say anything,” he explained.
The only way to Elisabeth’s heart was for Patrick to be his genuine self, and as he began opening up to her, he realized that their relationship wasn’t just another fling. And so, after four years together, Patrick decided to pop the question.
On June 12, 1975, Elisabeth and Patrick said “I do,” wedding in a private ceremony in the bride’s family’s backyard. Elisabeth wore a handmade dress for the occasion, and the couple held their reception at Patrick’s mother’s dance studio.
Shortly after their wedding, Elisabeth — now going by her stage name Lisa Neimi — and Patrick moved to New York City to begin their stage careers. Yet big-money roles weren’t easy to come by, leaving the couple to accept small background parts.
That day came more than a decade later when Patrick was cast as the lead in a low-budget film called Dirty Dancing. Originally slated to be shown in theaters for a single weekend, Dirty Dancing immediately became a smash hit and propelled Patrick to superstardom.
This breakout translated into plenty of attention for the 35-year-old, who was then pegged for leading roles in Road House (1989), Ghost (1990), and Point Break (1991). Yet all the while, Patrick never forgot about the woman that had supported him from the start.
According to Patrick’s Road House co-star Kelly Lynch, it was a rarity to find him on set without Lisa once the cameras stopped rolling. “They’re like a single organism,” she once said of the couple. “They love each other, and it’s apparent. The partnership is for life.”
Yet in 2007, their partnership was put to the test like never before when the couple received some devastating news. After dealing with a nagging pain in his stomach and a variety of other strange symptoms, Patricks was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
The initial shock of Patrick’s diagnosis “was like being in a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from,” Lisa told ABC News. But as the cancer continued to spread, they were hopeful that chemotherapy and other treatments would help Patrick beat the disease.
Sadly, on September 14, 2009, Patrick lost his battle with cancer. The world grieved heavily over the demise of the beloved Hollywood icon, though, unsurprisingly, it was Lisa who took Patrick’s death the hardest.
“I thought during the 22 months of my husband’s illness that it gave me time to get used to the idea of losing him,” she explained, “and I found for myself when I actually got to that point I said, no, no, no. That wasn’t the same at all; the actual loss is — it’s like an animal all on its own.”
But there was one thing Patrick had insisted upon before his death: that Lisa “live and do what she [does] best: give her greatest asset — her love — to another.” And in 2012, Lisa took those words to heart when she began dating jeweler Albert DePrisco.
Lisa’s decision to start dating again wasn’t a difficult one, as the love she would always have for Patrick didn’t deter her from finding love with Albert. However, all that changed in 2014 when Albert asked for Lisa’s hand in marriage.
Daily Entertainment News
“I found myself grappling with my feelings of having been married to Patrick for 34 years,” she recalled in an interview with People. “Privately, I flipped, I flopped. Yes, get married, no, don’t get married.”
But it was Patrick himself that ultimately led her to the decision to remarry. According to Lisa, her late husband actually came to her in a dream amidst her personal crisis and assured her that it was okay to move on.
And so, in May 2014 — just four years after losing Patrick — Lisa said “I do” for the second time. “Albert’s heart, his generosity, his personal strength and his sense of fun [are] some of the reasons why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him,” she told People.
Lisa is undoubtedly looking forward to her future with Albert, though her 34 years with Patrick won’t soon be forgotten. As she begins this new chapter of her life, it’s safe to say that Patrick will be smiling down on her all the way through.
Lisa learned firsthand that not all Hollywood love stories are without heartbreak, though she’s certainly not the only star who’s loved and lost. Meryl Streep’s love story is no less tragic, though it began in a place not many would expect.
It’s hard to picture Streep in any line of work other than acting, but when she was growing up, her eyes weren’t set on the red carpet. She actually had ambitions of becoming a singer, and she was taking steps to make her dream a reality.
She enrolled in voice classes with the famous soprano Estelle Liebling. The teacher was incredibly strict, and Streep didn’t enjoy all her lessons, but she felt it was pertinent to her singing career.
Streep performed in school musicals where she could unveil all the hard work she put in with Liebling. She eventually went to the Yale School of Drama but still wasn’t entirely sold on acting.
In fact, there was a period of time she wanted to be a translator for the United Nations. For the sake of movie lovers everywhere, it was a good thing she opted not to pursue that particular career path.
The first professional theatrical bow Streep took came in 1975 for a play titled Trelawny of the Wells. Even though she felt a rush of excitement, she still wasn’t sure if she craved a life in Hollywood.
After she was turned down for a number of roles, Streep stuck with the acting. In 1976, she was in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and that was where she fell head over heels for an actor named John Cazale.
Cazale was already a major player in Hollywood after his role in The Godfather. Streep and Cazale hit it off almost instantly, and before anyone knew it, they were living together in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood.
The couple had been dating for about a year when Cazale was hit with a long period of illness. He finally brought himself to a doctor where he and Streep received the worst news: he had terminal lung cancer.
Streep wanted to be by his side as much as possible while he slowly succumbed to his illness. It’s said that the whole reason she accepted her Oscar-nominated role in The Deer Hunter was so she could be close to him, as he was already cast in the film.
Fortunately, the cast and crew of the film also pitched in to help Cazale. The director, Michael Cimino, played a large role in the decision to cast him, and Robert De Niro paid for the costly insurance he required.
Despite everyone making him comfortable, Cazale eventually became so weak he was transferred to the hospital. An emotionally-devastated Streep said goodbye to Cazale on March 12, 1978.
After news of Cazale’s death got out, tributes from all over poured in full of praises about the gifted actor. One of his good friends published a eulogy stating: “John Cazale happens once in a lifetime. He was an invention, a small perfection.”
Although wrought with grief, Streep returned to work. She was in demand after her role in The Deer Hunter, and the year after Cazale passed away she starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer.
Streep performed so well opposite Hoffman she actually took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 1980 Academy Awards. While all this was happening, someone new had made quite an impression on her life.
A sculptor named Don Gummer, who was a friend of Streep’s brother, helped the two of them move the actress’s belongings out of the Tribeca apartment. Gummer offered Streep a place to sleep while she apartment hunted, and their relationship picked up speed.
It only took six months before Streep and Gummer exchanged vows in the backyard of her parents’ house. Friends and family were alarmed she fell so fast and were quick to chalk her decision up to rebounding.
But they proved the critics wrong. The two found true love out of Streep’s heartbreak. Although she still lived with the grief from Cazale’s passing, Gummer patiently stood by her side the whole time.
In fact, when Streep won an Oscar for her portrayal of the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 2010’s The Iron Lady, she opened her speech with a massive shout out to Gummer.
The couple has currently been married for over four decades and is still going strong. It’s amazing to think that out of such a dark and emotionally turbulent time after Cazale died the light of love shined through.
Meryl Streep is far from the only Hollywood star who was dealt a tragic hand on her rise to fame. Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, suffered an immense amount of blows throughout her career, but she braved it all.
Her mother was the famous film star Jayne Mansfield, so drama runs in her blood. However, when her mother died tragically in a car wreck it would have an impact on the rest of Mariska’s life.
Because losing a parent isn’t hard enough, Mariska was forced to actually buy back all of her mother’s fine jewelry after her death when people sought to take advantage of the star’s premature passing. Needless to say, this was an unsavory experience.
After her mother died, Mariska struggled to overcome the tragic loss, something that became increasingly difficult to when people began spreading terrible rumors about the way her mother died. They were gruesome.
Though Mariska lost her mother when she was just an infant, it took her decades to actually process the fact that she had lost her mother and to deal with the wounds never knowing her left behind.
Just after losing her mother, Mariska also nearly lost the beloved step-mother who had become like a second mother to her and the rest of her siblings. It was a traumatic event that upset the entire family, and understandably so.
While you might look at Mariska and associate her with being on the right side of the law, that’s just TV. The truth is she once found herself behind bars! When you find out what put her there, you’ll totally relate.
Although she is considered a woman of wealth and fame today, it wasn’t always that way. In her early life, Mariska wracked up six-figures worth of total debt. There was time when she thought she would never be free.
The hits just kept coming. During what should have been the happiest days of her life, tragedy struck. Mariska was forced to endure losing her father to a very aggressive form of cancer in 2006.
Just like her father, Mariska has had health scares all her own. She was hospitalized in 2009 to receive treatment for a serious collapsed lung that had gone undiagnosed for quite some time.
After having her first child, Mariska and her husband Peter decided to try and adopt another so their son could have a sibling. The mother of the baby they were going to adopt changed her mind at the last possible minute.
The most important thing about Mariska is that, even though she has faced incredible odds, she remains positive in every single thing that she does and that message shines through in her actions.
Mariska is more than just a pretty face. While working hard at college and struggling to make it as an actress, she also taught herself to speak three languages all on her own. In addition to English she speaks fluent French, Hungarian, and Italian.
Mariska is the founder and the president of Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps rape and sexual-assault victims. She was inspired to start it because of her work on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
While Mariska’s life has been one of countless hardships, she has also had moments of great triumph. One of those came as early as 1982 when she was crowned Miss Beverly Hills. She’s got brains and beauty!
Fame didn’t come easily. Even after shooting a starring role in the 1995 Powers Rangers movie, Mariska learned that she was being cut out and replaced with the work of another actress. Tough stuff!
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