Kaley Cuoco earned acclaim recently for her performance on the HBO Max series The Flight Attendant and before that, you probably knew her as Penny on The Big Bang Theory. But her first big TV role was on 8 Simple Rules, the ABC sitcom that ran from 2002 to 2004. In addition to Cuoco, the series starred iconic sitcom actor John Ritter, who died unexpectedly during production of the show’s second season in 2003. In a new interview with Variety, Cuoco said that she got some memorable advice from her TV dad that she still carries with her to this day. To see what Ritter told Cuoco before he died, read on.
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During a recent “Actors on Actors” interview for Variety with Elizabeth Olsen, Cuoco shared some of the sage advice she got Ritter, who she said was her “entire world” while on 8 Simple Rules. Ritter had been starring on TV for 30 years by the time he met Cuoco on the show (which was originally called 8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter until his death). Of course, he was also known for Three’s Company and the Problem Child movies.
“I remember conversations when I was 15 years old where he said, ‘You have to remember when you’re on a set, it’s like a tree. Number one’s here, and any way you act is all trickling down that tree. You can be a boss, you can be a great actor, you can get work done, but you can just be nice,'” Cuoco recalled Ritter telling her.
“The respect and the kindness and the joy he brought to that set, it was unbelievable,” Cuoco previously told Variety in Feb. 2021.
She said that Ritter told her he thought she was “going to go places,” so he introduced her to his management team. “In the future, if I was that number one, I knew how I was going to run my set,” Cuoco recalled thinking.
It seems Cuoco has taken Ritter’s advice now that she is number one on the call sheet. Zosia Mamet, Cuoco’s co-star on The Flight Attendant, which she also executive produced, told Variety that Cuoco created a welcoming environment on the set of the HBO Max series.
“It’s such a trickle-down situation. The captain of the ship—the way they are infects everybody else,” Mamet said. “And it was so clear that Kaley was so proud already of what we were doing. Everyone here matters. Everybody here is a part of this process.”
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In Sept. 2018, Cuoco told Entertainment Tonight that she still gets chills when Ritter’s name comes up because she “loved him so much.”
On Sept. 11, 2003, Ritter was rehearsing on the set of 8 Simple Rules and fell ill. He was reportedly vomiting, experiencing nausea, and feeling his chest tighten, according to the Los Angeles Times. In the midst of his illness, he called Cuoco over and said he wanted to talk to her. Cuoco said he told her, “I want you to know I love you,” and he hugged her. That was the last time she saw him. He died that night at age 54 of an aortic dissection.
Today, the 8 Simple Rules cast continues to honor Ritter and keep his memory alive. “Thank you for continuing to me make me laugh every single day,” Cuoco wrote on Instagram on Sept. 11, 2020, the 17th anniversary of Ritter’s death.
Martin Spanjers, who played Ritter’s son and Cuoco’s younger brother on the show, wrote a lengthy tribute to Ritter on Instagram that day as well. “A lot of people will ask me, ‘What was John Ritter like?’—I will respond with something like: He was the greatest. The most kind, genuine, loving, and yes—hilarious person,” wrote Spanjers. “Whether you were a random fan approaching him or the head of ABC, he would show you the same respect and gratitude with his time…looking you in the eye, joyful, and remaining incredibly present.”