Amy Yasbeck has spent the last 19 years navigating life without her husband John Ritter physically by her side.
“I miss John as a partner,” the 60-year-old widow shares exclusively with PEOPLE from her Los Angeles home.
Although she’s done her best to keep his memory alive and move forward, the thought of opening her heart to someone new seems daunting.
“I don’t date,” Yasbeck says. “I mean, it could happen. I’m not in the mood. I think I would miss John more if I was dating, as weird as that sounds. But because I always feel like he’s with me, and that would be weird because in that case, three ain’t company.”
The couple with in 1990 during a table read for Problem Child at the house of director Dennis Dugan. They quickly connected over their love of the arts and tied the knot nine years later in September 1999.
“John and I bonded about comedy, where we’d watch old comedies,” Yasbeck explains. “He would do moves and he would teach me how to trip or take a fake punch or spit take. I was learning that kind of stuff, physical comedy from the master, which John was.”
But on Sept. 11, 2003, Yasbeck’s life flipped upside down when Ritter was on the set of 8 Simple Rules and suddenly fell ill. The actor was rushed to a Burbank hospital, where he initially was treated for a heart attack, but he died later that evening of what was an undetected aortic dissection at 54-years-old.
According to the Mayo Clinic, an aortic dissection is a serious condition in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery, or the aorta. Blood rushes through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to split. If the blood goes through the outside aortic wall, like what happened to the Three’s Company star, an aortic dissection can be deadly.
courtesy Amy Yasbeck
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Over the years, Yasbeck and Ritter worked on several projects together including The Cosby Show, Problem Child 2 and even an episode of Yasbeck’s hit series wingswhere she says Ritter would always leave his mark.
“He was an excellent person to have on a set and when anybody who’s an actor, including me, says, ‘Hey, you remind me of John Ritter, how you talk to that camera person or how you’re relating with the guest stars “That’s the highest compliment,” Yasbeck says. “The set was a place where John was first, second, third, didn’t matter on the call sheet. It was a whole kind of shine to the whole thing.”
“Whether there was an audience there or not, he just didn’t turn it on when the audience was there. You were entertained all day long and your ego was fed in an appropriate way,” she continues. “He loved show business. He was almost like a conductor that was also being the symphony. I don’t know how he did it, but it was amazing.”
courtesy Amy Yasbeck
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Although Ritter’s physical presence is no longer apart of her every day life, Yasbeck keeps John’s memory alive by trying to prevent another family from experiencing similar heartbreak.
“I have been dedicated heart and soul and mostly aorta, to creating the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health,” Yasbeck shares. “It takes up a great deal of time, but it needed to happen and it has already had some beautiful results in just the awareness that’s brought to aortic dissection and aortic health in general.”
Not only does Yasbeck help those she’s never met, but her work has also helped save other family members on John’s side — many of whom she’s still close with today.
“Our family doesn’t know what the Ritter genetic anomaly is to look for, but we know there is one because John’s brother, Tom, actually had an aneurysm a couple years after John passed away that was found,” Yasbeck explains. “Then his aortic arch was completely repaired, replaced, as a matter of fact, because we knew to look for that.”
“All of the family gets scanned, all the first-degree relatives, and it’s never going to sneak up on us. It’s something repairable and preventable,” she adds. “But if you don’t know that your family’s at risk or if you’re not aware of aortic dissection at all, it can come out of the blue and you can learn the hard way, like we did when John was misdiagnosed.”
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As the 20 year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Yasbeck may not be ready for a new physical relationship, but she’s ready to focus on another kind of love in her life that John brought out in her: acting.
“I think I’m ready to get my ducks back in a row,” Yasbeck says. “Get some age appropriate headshots and get going. I love it so much. My favorite thing about acting is the little families that you make. I love having a call sheet and I love the community. Work on here, you work on there and then you go home to your real family [and] then you’ve got your work family. I like that.”