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A TV Icon Leaves the Stage: Suzanne Somers (1946-2023)

Suzanne Somers was so full of life that it’s hard to believe she’s gone. Everything about her on-screen personality hummed with the energy of a woman who wanted to make the most of every moment she had on this planet as she turned her fame into a career of advocacy (sometimes for controversial causes) and motivational movements. In the end, the Thighmaster spokesperson will be most remembered for her work on television in more than one hit, although it’s the part of Chrissy Snow that will forever be her most popular.

A California girl through and through, Somers revealed in the ‘90s that she was the child of an abusive alcoholic, someone who was so violent that the future actress was a bed-wetter until she was 12 and the victim of a violent attack on Prom night. She escaped that home but struggled further as a teen after getting pregnant at 17, marrying the father not long after, and divorcing him a year later. She would later say that these developments impacted her “need for constant crises,” leading to an arrest for check fraud and an affair with a married TV host named Alan Hamel. She would say her in memoir Keeping Secrets that her therapist told her that she “had the lowest self-esteem of anyone she’d ever met. That was my turning point.”

Suzanne Somers really broke through for a generation in “American Graffiti,” memorably cameo-ing as a character credited as “Blonde in the white Thunderbird.” At the time, such a memorable part in a hit film could open doors, and Somers took small parts across the TV landscape, appearing in “The Rockford Files,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Love Boat,” “One Day at a Time,” and even an uncredited role in the Clint Eastwood flick “Magnum Force.”

The story goes that ABC President Fred Silverman had seen Somers make an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” in the wake of the George Lucas hit and thought she might work as Chrissy Snow on a show that was struggling with casting, “Three’s Company.” In the early years of the mega-hit, Somers is really just playing dumb blonde stereotypes, but she’s doing so with an underrated natural comic timing, an ability to sell a joke or support a co-star to get a laugh of his own.

A massive hit, “Three’s Company” made Suzanne Somers a household name, but the actress ran into an industry roadblock when she asked that her compensation match co-star John Ritter’s. He was making $150k an episode, a massive amount in 1980 dollars, and Somers was getting 20% of that. When ABC countered with only a $5k raise, Somers held out a few episodes and her roles was decreased over the following season, ultimately leading to her termination and a lawsuit against ABC. She was essentially fired for trying to get paid as much as her male co-star, and it hurt her career and friendships. She reportedly didn’t speak to Ritter for two decades.

The ’80s were a little tough on Somers, including a Playboy lawsuit over one pictorial and then an agreement to do a second one, and a stint working the stage in Las Vegas. She had a bit of a comeback in the late ‘80s with the syndicated comedy “She’s the Sheriff,” but the real comeback came in the ‘90s with “Step by Step,” a foundational part of the TGIF comedy line-up on the network that Somers had sued a decade earlier, ABC.

Suzanne Somers would often provoke controversy over her medical views on bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and radical cancer treatments, but she was unapologetically herself throughout her career, someone who escaped a brutal upbringing to bring joy to millions and someone who fought for equal pay at a time when networks were actively opposing it. She battled cancer, sexism, and dealt with severe trauma—her son was struck by a car when he was only six and her house destroyed by a wildfire in 2007. Say what you will about Somers’ more controversial opinions, she was a survivor. 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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