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Remembering Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers Three's Company castWhile moderating a star-studded event in Hollywood back in 2009, I introduced Suzanne Somers by saying, “She is the author of a book titled ‘Touch Me’, about the effect of the thigh master on global warming.” Suzanne laughed loudly. In fact, the superstar actress turned superstar entrepreneur loved to laugh, and she laughed a lot. That was nine years after being diagnosed with breast cancer and three decades after she was fired from a hit TV show just because she asked for the same salary as her male co-star.
Suzanne Somers She's the SherrifBut Suzanne was not one to let any kind of adversity beat her. After leaving “Three’s Company” and being virtually blackballed by casting agents, she re-invented herself and used her singing skills to develop a one-woman nightclub act. After headlining in Vegas in the early 1980’s, Suzanne was voted as that city’s Female Entertainer of the year, and suddenly casting agents came calling again.

She was hired for the title role in “She’s the Sheriff”, then in 1991 Suzanne produced and starred in an autobiographical TV movie, “Keeping Secrets” which dramatized everything from her childhood Dyslexia and abusive behavior by an alcoholic father, to her journey to find and marry the love of her life, Alan Hamel.

Suzanne Somers Step By Step castThat was followed by her long-running comedy series, “Step by Step”, and an even longer-running career as a successful businesswoman who made hundreds of millions of dollars from putting her name on over 500 products, including the popular Thigh Master.

Along the way she wrote over two dozen books and became an advocate for women’s health. Suzanne’s cancer returned with a vengeance in July of this year, and it finally beat her one day shy of her 77th birthday. Suzanne Somers died on October 15.  She is survived by Alan, their three children, and six grandchildren.
I first met Suzanne when she agreed to participate in an event that I was producing for the Television Academy which saluted famous TV Dads. I had asked her to come on stage and pay tribute to her “Step by Step” co-star Patrick Duffy, and we stayed in touch regularly after that. On the morning of October 15, unaware of her passing, I had put a post-it note on my desk to remind me to call her for her birthday the next day.
Sometimes our communications were brief and sometimes they evolved into her giving me advice about my kidney stones or sharing updates about her battle with breast cancer. Other times she would send me lengthy emails about the infamous “Three’s Company” saga, or comments about her various co-stars. What follows are excerpts from some of our emails over the years.
June 24, 2009
JL: Thanks so much for participating in the TV Dads salute last Thursday. The crowd really loved your comments.
SS: Thanks for the nice letter. That doesn’t usually happen. Both Alan and I thought you handled yourself well and were very good on your feet. you kept it lively and funny. I was happy to be there.
August 14, 2009
JL:  I didn’t realize what a great cook you are. Pam and I are flying back to L.A. for the EMMys next month. Can you provide the in-flight food for Delta?

SS: yes, and the food will be organic!
February 5, 2012 and June 19, 2014
JL:  I just watched your recent reunion with Joyce (DeWitt) on your internet show, “Suzanne Somers Breaking Through”. I hadn’t realized that the two of you had once wanted to do a tribute to John Ritter at the EMMys, but your request was denied.  
SS:  It was the first time that Joyce and I had spoken after being estranged for decades. I was impressed by her willingness to appear, and it was an emotional reunion.
JL: Go back and tell me about the estrangement and why the EMMy idea didn’t fly.
SS:  Before John died, I had reconciled with him in a telephone call. He had called me to ask if I would do a guest shot on his show, “Eight Simple Rules”. It was supposed to be a dream sequence where Joyce and I would be in his dream. I was so touched that he would reach out and call me after so many years, and it was uncomfortable for me to tell him that I didn’t want to do it. Because of my immaturity at the time, I didn’t have the wisdom to see it for the opportunity that it was. Instead, childishly I did not want to be on screen with Joyce. At that point she had said so many awful things about me in print, on TV and radio that I just didn’t like her. I take responsibility for my small mindedness.  Anyway, the conversation with John was tearful, emotional, and heartwarming, so instead we decided rather than do his show, that we would find a project to do together. When he died a month later, I was deeply sorry and felt it was time to bury the hatchet. So, I asked my PR agent to call Steve Binder who was producing the EMMys that year. We suggested that during the show a large black and white photo of John would drop down, and then Joyce and I (dressed in beautiful black gowns) would come from opposite sides of the stage and have sort of a “Three’s Company” reunion as the eulogy. Our idea was rejected.
JL:  Thus, the puny-brained politics of the Television Academy.
SS:  Thanks for the puny brain comment. It would have been a TV moment to remember. By the way, I had wanted to go to his funeral, but John’s family barred me from coming. Well, now you’ve got me going about all the hard feelings from the “Three’s Company” debacle.
JL:  That’s OK.
SS:  The whole thing was a tragedy all the way around. After five years of being on the show I asked for a salary increase and 10% of the profits. The network decided to play hardball and fire me so that no other female would have the audacity to ask for parity with the men. Had Joyce and John backed me up, we would have all participated, but they turned against me publicly and I was ostracized and called “greedy” by the press. Before I left, security cordoned off the set so that I couldn’t interact with anyone. I was unable to work on TV for years due to the negative publicity. It was a needless, cruel scenario that created a bitterness that I had to work to overcome. But I now feel at peace with the entire thing.
January 29, 2013 
JL:  I just read where you said that you intend to live to be 110. I’m sure you will, and by then you’ll finally look like you’re 45.
SS: Hahahhaa.. now I’ve really set myself up!
October 16, 2013
(Suzanne had just bragged to the press about her active sex life with Alan)
JL:  I hesitated to send this email for fear that it would interrupt something you and Alan might be doing.
SS:  Hahahahaha.. I still know how to get attention! I love that you always remember my birthday.
June 30, 2014
JL:  Tell Alan I’m celebrating his birthday by passing kidney stones.

SS:  Sorry for the stones. Drink a lake full of water.
August 24, 2014
JL:  Dear Goddess, I just saw your bikini photo in the Enquirer. you can’t possibly be 68.

SS:  Dear darling Jim you made my day! Thanks.
October 17, 2016
JL:  Hey I think I typed in your email address incorrectly and it got spammed out.

SS:  you will never be spam to me.

JL:  That may be the most romantically hi-tech thing a woman has ever said to me.

SS:  Hahaha. I’m of the millennium.
June 30, 2018
JL:  Wish Alan a happy birthday for me.

SS:  you are beyond thoughtful. We just woke up to see a school of beautiful dolphins. Life is good.
October 16, 2019
JL:  Happy birthday!

SS:  Thanks Jim. It wouldn’t be my birthday without hearing from you. you are always the first.
August 1, 2023
JL:  Hey Good Lookin’.  I just heard that you’re having to deal with the “C” word again. I’m thinking good thoughts and sending prayers your way.
SS:  Thanks Jim. The wishes I’m getting from so many people make me feel so good. I must have done something right. Looking forward to seeing you in the future.
That was the last time we corresponded. I will miss our regular exchanges, and I will think of her often. Suzanne and I spoke of many things over the years, but perhaps what she said to me in a 2015 missive best sums up her essence. “Jim, I’m loving life.” And what a life it was. Rest in peace, my friend.

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