The former sitcom star battled breast cancer for years
Suzanne Somers, the vivacious blonde actress who became known for her role as Chrissy Snow on the television show “Three’s Company” and became an entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author, has died. She was 76.
Somers had suffered from breast cancer for more than 23 years and died Sunday morning, her family said in a statement released by her longtime publicist R. Couri Hay. Her husband Alan Hamel, son Bruce and other immediate family were with her in Palm Springs, California.
“Her family was gathered on October 16 to celebrate her 77th birthday,” the statement said. “Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life and would like 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, you get a pit in your stomach when you get the dreaded “It’s back.” Then I put on my combat gear and go to war,” she told Entertainment Tonight at the time. “This is a familiar battlefield for me and I’m very tough.”
She was first diagnosed in 2000 and had previously battled skin cancer. Somers faced some backlash for relying on what she called a chemical-free and organic lifestyle to fight cancer. She spoke out against the use of chemotherapy in books and on platforms such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which drew criticism from the American Cancer Society.
Somers was born in San Bruno, California in 1946, the son of a gardener and a medical secretary. Her childhood, she later said, was turbulent. Her father was an alcoholic and abusive. She married Bruce Somers at the age of 19 after becoming pregnant with their son Bruce. The couple divorced three years later and she began modeling for The Anniversary Game to make a living. During this time she met Hamel, whom she married in 1977.
She began acting in the late 1960s and made her first appearance in the Steve McQueen film Bullitt. But she only really came into the spotlight when she was cast as the blonde behind the wheel of the white Thunderbird in George Lucas’ 1973 film “American Graffiti.” Her only sentence was to utter the words “I love you” to Richard Dreyfuss’ character.
At her audition, Lucas only asked her if she could drive. She later said that moment “changed her life forever.”
Somers later directed a solo Broadway show about her life called The Blonde in the Thunderbird, 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 role came on “Three’s Company,” which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1984 – although their participation ended in 1981.
In “Three’s Company” she was the dazzling blonde alongside 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 likeable and lovable…dumb blondes are annoying.” I gave her a moral code. I imagined it was the childhood I wish I had.”
In 1980, after four seasons, she asked for a raise from $30,000 per episode to $150,000 per episode, which would have been comparable to Ritter’s salary. Hamel, a former television producer, had sponsored the request.
“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 immediately released and released soon after; Her character was replaced by two different housemates for the remaining years the series aired. It also led to a falling out with her co-stars; They didn’t speak to each other for many years. Somers reconciled with Ritter and then with DeWitt on their online talk show before his death.
But Somers used the break as an opportunity to explore new avenues, including a gig in Las Vegas, hosting a talk show and becoming an entrepreneur. In the 1990s she also became a spokesperson for “ThighMaster”.
This decade also saw her return to network television in the 1990s, most notably with “Step by Step,” which aired on ABC’s youth-oriented TGIF program. The channel also aired a biopic about her life called Keeping Secrets, in which she starred.
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 said in the People story that she had just returned from the Midwest, where she underwent six weeks of intensive physical therapy.
“Even after our five decades together, I continue to marvel at Suzanne’s amazing determination and commitment,” Hamel said.
She told the magazine that she asked for “plenty of cake.”
“I really love cake,” she said.