Suzanne Somers, the effervescent blonde actor known for playing Chrissy Snow on the television show “Three’s Company” and who became an entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author, has died. She was 76.
Somers had breast cancer for over 23 years and died Sunday morning, her family said in a statement provided by her longtime publicist, R. Couri Hay. Her husband Alan Hamel, her son Bruce and other immediate family were with her in Palm Springs, California.
“Her family was gathered to celebrate her 77th birthday on October 16th,” the statement read. “Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life, and want to thank her millions of fans and followers who loved her dearly.”
In July, Somers shared on Instagram that her breast cancer had returned.
“Like any cancer patient, when you get that dreaded, ‘It’s back’ you get a pit in your stomach. Then I put on my battle gear and go to war,” she told Entertainment Tonight at the time. “This is familiar battleground for me and I’m very tough.”
She was first diagnosed in 2000, and had previously battled skin cancer. Somers faced some backlash for her reliance on what she’s described as a chemical-free and organic lifestyle to combat the cancers. She argued against the use of chemotherapy, in books and on platforms like “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which drew criticism from the American Cancer Society.
Somers was born in 1946 in San Bruno, California, to a gardener father and a medical secretary mother. Her childhood, she’d later say, was tumultuous. Her father was an alcoholic, and abusive. She married young, at 19, to Bruce Somers, after becoming pregnant with her son Bruce. The couple divorced three years later and she began modeling for “The Anniversary Game” to support herself. It was during this time that she met Hamel, who she married in 1977.
She began acting in the late 1960s, earning her first credit in the Steve McQueen film “Bullitt.” But the spotlight really hit when she was cast as the blonde driving the white Thunderbird in George Lucas’s 1973 film “American Graffiti.” Her only line was mouthing the words “I love you” to Richard Dreyfuss’s character.
At her audition, Lucas just asked her if she could drive. She later said that moment “changed her life forever.”
Somers would later stage a one-woman Broadway show entitled “The Blonde in the Thunderbird,” about her life, which drew largely scathing reviews.
She appeared in many television shows in the 1970s, including “The Rockford Files,” “Magnum Force” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” but her most famous part came with “Three’s Company,” which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1984 — though her participation ended in 1981.
On “Three’s Company,” she was the ditzy blonde opposite John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt in the roommate comedy.
“Creating her was actually intellectual,” she told CBS News in 2020. “How do I make her likable and loveable … dumb blondes are annoying. I gave her a moral code. I imagined it was the childhood I would’ve liked to have had.”
In 1980, after four seasons, she asked for a raise from $30,000 an episode to $150,000 an episode, which would have been comparable to what Ritter was getting paid. Hamel, a former television producer, had encouraged the ask.
“The show’s response was, ‘Who do you think you are?’” Somers told People in 2020. “They said, ‘John Ritter is the star.’”
She was promptly phased out and soon fired; Her character was replaced by two different roommates for the remaining years the show aired. It also led to a rift with her co-stars; They didn’t speak for many years. Somers did reconcile with Ritter before his death, and then with DeWitt on her online talk show.
But Somers took the break as an opportunity to pursue new avenues, including a Las Vegas act, hosting a talk show and becoming an entrepreneur. In the 1990s, she also became the spokesperson for the “ThighMaster.”
The decade also saw her return to network television in the 1990s, most famously on “Step by Step,” which aired on ABC’s youth-targeted TGIF lineup. The network also aired a biopic of her life, starring her, called “Keeping Secrets.”
Somers was also a prolific author, writing books on aging, menopause, beauty, wellness, sex and cancer.
She was in good spirits and surrounded by family before her death, even giving an interview to People Magazine about her birthday plans to be with her “nearest and dearest.”
Hamel, in the People story, said she’d just returned from the Midwest where she had six weeks of intensive physical therapy.
“Even after our five decades together, I still marvel at Suzanne’s amazing determination and commitment,” Hamel said.
She told the magazine that she had asked for “copious amounts of cake.”
“I really love cake,” she said.