Suzanne Somers, who gained fame initially by playing a ditsy blonde on the sitcom “Three’s Company” and then by getting fired when she demanded equal pay with the series’ male star — and who later built a health and diet business empire, most notably from the ThighMaster, a workout device — died on Sunday at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. She was one day away from turning 77.
The cause was cancer, R. Couri Hay, a spokesman, said.
“Three’s Company” told the story of two roommates — Chrissy Snow, a secretary, played by Somers; and Janet Wood, a florist, played by Joyce DeWitt — who rent the third room in their apartment to Jack Tripper, a culinary student played by John Ritter. Since their landlord would frown on an unmarried man living with two single women, the group pretends that Jack is gay. (High jinks ensue.)
By the show’s fifth season, “Three’s Company” was one of the nation’s most popular sitcoms. During Ms. Somers’s contract negotiations with ABC in 1980, it was widely reported, she asked for a raise from $30,000 to $150,000 — equal pay with the series’ male star, Mr. Ritter. Instead of getting the raise, Ms. Somers was fired.
“I’ve been playing what I think is one of the best dumb blondes that’s ever been done, but I never got any credit,” she told The New York Times that year. “I did it so well that everyone thought I really was a dumb blonde.”
In the years to come, she remained recognizable for frequent appearances in movies and on television, including the 1990s sitcom “Step by Step” and talk shows.
But her later reputation sprang just as much from her business acumen — which proved to be more formidable than ABC’s executives appreciated in 1980.
She and her husband, Alan Hamel, made the ThighMaster one of the most recognizable products in infomercial history, thanks in part to Ms. Somers’s many leggy appearances alongside the product. She said that she and her husband had earned hundreds of millions of dollars from its sale.
Ms. Somers also wrote more than 25 books, several of them best sellers, which tended to focus on issues related to the body and aging.
Some of the methods she promoted — including bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, a treatment that she called “the juice of youth” for menopausal women — were criticized by doctors as unproven and possibly unsafe.
The foundation of her business efforts was the sex positivity that she had embodied since “Three’s Company.”
“A sexual person,” she told The Times in 2020, “is a healthy person.”
A full obituary will be published soon.