Suzanne Somers, the actress best known for her roles in TV comedies including Three’s Company and Step by Step, has died, her longtime publicist announced Sunday. She was 76 years old.
“Suzanne Somers passed away peacefully at home in the early morning hours of October 15th,” R. Couri Hay said in a statement. “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 16th. Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life, and want to thank her millions of fans and followers who loved her dearly.”
A private family burial will take place this week, Hay said, and a memorial will be held next month.
Born Suzanne Marie Mahoney in San Bruno, California, Somers got her acting start in the late ’60s with small roles in films like the 1968 Steve McQueen action classic Bullitt, and Clint Eastwood‘s Magnum Force in 1973. That same year, she also had a brief but memorable appearance in the George Lucas-directed American Graffiti, credited as “Blonde in T-Bird.”
Somers appeared throughout the 1970s on hit TV shows including The Rockford Files and The Love Boat, but her big break came when she was cast as the ditzy Chrissy Snow on the ABC sitcom Three’s Company, opposite Joyce DeWitt and the late John Ritter.
Three’s Company was a hit, running for eight seasons between 1977 and 1984 and making Somers a sex symbol and household name. Before the show’s fifth season, she demanded equal pay to Ritter but producers refused, ultimately firing her when the season ended in 1981.
Somers sued the show’s producers for $2 million in response but received only a small fraction of what she asked. Widely criticized in the popular press for her Three’s Company demands, Somers found it difficult for several years to secure acting roles. To help make ends meet, in 1990, Somers became the commercial spokesperson for the Thighmaster, a piece of personal exercise equipment meant to be squeezed between one’s thighs to develop leg and hip strength.
While the ubiquitous infomercials, featuring Somers in heels and a leotard, were widely lampooned, the product was a success, selling millions of units and earning Somers induction into the Direct Marketing Response Alliance Hall of Fame. She ultimately began selling her own successful lines of personal products, including skin care, makeup, hair care and health products.
Ten years after she was fired from Three’s Company, Somers scored her next big television role, on ABC’s Step by Step alongside Dallas alum Patrick Duffy. Somers remained on the show until it ended in 1998.
Somers worked sporadically in television afterwards and competed on season 20 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars in 2015, placing ninth. She also wrote multiple books, including memoirs, health and wellness guides, cookbooks and a poetry collection.
Somers battled breast cancer multiple times throughout her life: She was first diagnosed in 2000.
She was married twice: Her first marriage, to Bruce Somers, produced her only child, Bruce Jr., and ended in divorce in 1968 after three years. She met her future husband, Alan Hamel, in 1969 when she was a prize model on Anniversary Game, the short-lived game show he was hosting. The two married in 1977 and remained together until her death.
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