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An iconic pop culture figure for the past three decades, Suzanne Somers transformed herself from a sitcom star - most famously as the clueless Chrissy Snow on the classic "Three's Company" - to a vastly popular commercial spokesperson and author. Born Suzanne Marie Mahoney in San Bruno, CA on Oct. 16, 1946 to parents Frank and Marion Mahoney, Somers' early years were marked by sadness. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, which left her in constant fear of being killed or hurt by him. On top of that sad existence, she struggled with her studies due to the crippling learning disorder of dyslexia - at a time when there was no real understanding, other than being called "stupid" or "slow." But a role in a high school production of "Guys and Dolls" offered her a bright new direction, resulting in a music scholarship to a Catholic college in California. Unfortunately, due to the then prudish times, she was forced to drop out after becoming pregnant by her college classmate, Bruce Somers. Like many people caught off guard by an unexpected pregnancy, they married and had a son, Bruce Jr. in 1965. The marriage ended just two years later, after an unhappy Somers had an affair with her former drama teacher and...
An iconic pop culture figure for the past three decades, Suzanne Somers transformed herself from a sitcom star - most famously as the clueless Chrissy Snow on the classic "Three's Company" - to a vastly popular commercial spokesperson and author.
Born Suzanne Marie Mahoney in San Bruno, CA on Oct. 16, 1946 to parents Frank and Marion Mahoney, Somers' early years were marked by sadness. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, which left her in constant fear of being killed or hurt by him. On top of that sad existence, she struggled with her studies due to the crippling learning disorder of dyslexia - at a time when there was no real understanding, other than being called "stupid" or "slow." But a role in a high school production of "Guys and Dolls" offered her a bright new direction, resulting in a music scholarship to a Catholic college in California. Unfortunately, due to the then prudish times, she was forced to drop out after becoming pregnant by her college classmate, Bruce Somers. Like many people caught off guard by an unexpected pregnancy, they married and had a son, Bruce Jr. in 1965. The marriage ended just two years later, after an unhappy Somers had an affair with her former drama teacher and her husband found out about it. Fortunately for her, the divorce led Suzanne on a new and better course. She relocated to San Francisco to support herself and her child through modeling; some of it of the nude variety. Unfortunately, once she became famous, some of these early nude sessions surfaced years later in Playboy, much to her embarrassment.
In 1969, she landed a job as a model on the television game show "The Anniversary Game" (1969). Somers began a romantic relationship with the show's host, Alan Hamel, who was married at the time. Deeply in love with him, she soon found herself pregnant with his child. Hamel convinced her to terminate the pregnancy, which resulted in serious health complications for Somers - something she would go on to discuss later in her career. Despite these difficulties, the pair married in 1977, and since then, Hamel acted as her business partner and manager throughout her colorful career; sometimes, some would say, to her detriment.
Starting in 1969, Somers began landing small roles in films and television; among her early credits was a near-cameo in "Bullitt" (1968) and a turn as a stunt double in the cult thriller "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting" (1969). In 1973, she turned heads as "the blonde in the T-Bird" who sparks Richard Dreyfuss' ardor in George Lucas' rite-of-passage classic, "American Graffiti." Seemingly lit from within and staring seductively out the window at Dreyfuss, the small role ushered her further into the spotlight - as did an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-92), which allowed her to publish a book of poetry, Touch Me: The Poems of Suzanne Somers in 1973.
More minor onscreen roles followed "American Graffiti" - she appeared nude in the "Dirty Harry" feature film sequel "Magnum Force" (1973) and landed a more substantial role in the ludicrous made-for-TV thriller "It Happened At Lakewood Manor" (1977), which concerned rampaging ants. That same year, Somers replaced Susan Lanier in the role of Chrissy Snow on a new ABC sitcom called "Three's Company" (1977-1984). The part required Somers to play innocent, sexual, and slightly dense, and she embodied it to the hilt. The show became a massive ratings hit - in fact, an iconic time capsule of the good-time "Studio 54" era of sexual revolution - and earned her a Golden Globe nomination in 1979. Her success on the show also turned Somers into an overnight sex symbol, with her and her omnipresent pigtails the only real threat to Farrah Fawcett-Major's supremacy as the decade's top blonde poster girl.
However, Somers' relationship with the racy series' producers began to sour the following year when, with the encouragement of Hamel, she demanded a huge raise (from a reputed $30,000 per show to $150,000 per show) and 10 percent ownership of the program itself. Her risky demands - she later claimed the six-figure salary increase was only an opening volley in negotiations - were understandably not met by ABC. In protest, she missed several tapings of the series during its third season. Her behavior drove a wedge between her and co-stars Joyce DeWitt and John Ritter, but the producers were unwilling to fire her, fearing that her departure would put the show's ratings into decline. Instead, they reduced her screen time to a minute per episode - her scenes were shot without any of the other actors; usually Chrissy calling Janet from her hometown of Fresno - and by the end of the fourth season (when her contract expired), she had departed the show. A subsequent lawsuit brought by Somers against ABC - which claimed that her career had been damaged due to the negative publicity surrounding the contract issue - was later settled for a substantially lower amount than she requested.
Following the "Three's Company" debacle, Somers successfully reinvented herself as a live performer and a commercial spokesperson. She enjoyed a popular run at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, winning that city's Entertainer of the Year award in 1984. The blonde bombshell earned both praise and derision - the latter mostly from comics and late-night talk show hosts - as the celebrity promoter for Ace Hardware and the campy yet popular Thighmaster exercise device. Her new role as huckster - including not only ThighMaster and its related exercise products, but a line of jewelry and a cook book - helped made her very wealthy. But Somers still missed her first love, acting. A return to sitcoms with "She's the Sheriff" (syndicated, 1987-89) was less successful, but her third attempt - the family comedy "Step By Step" (ABC/CBS, 1991-98) with Patrick Duffy - struck gold with audiences. A "Brady Bunch" for the '90s, the sitcom focused on a blended family and was a staple of ABC's Friday night line-up for five years. After a hiatus, the show finished out the 1996-97 season before being picked up by CBS for a final season (1997-98). Almost as popular was her turn as co-host on a revived "Candid Camera" (CBS, 1998-2000).
In 1987, Somers published her autobiography, Keeping Secrets, which detailed her difficult upbringing - particularly the impact of her father's battle with the bottle. The best-selling book was later adapted into a 1991 TV-movie in which Somers played herself. Somers' story struck a chord with many readers who had undergone similar childhood experiences, and she soon transformed herself into a one-woman self-help industry, with 16 popular books on diet, beauty, and health to her name. Not all of her published works though, were embraced by the public. Her 2006 book Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bioidentical Hormones, was based on the controversial theories of author T.S. Wiley - a man who advocated the use of synthetic steroid hormones - and would go on to receive condemnation from actual health professionals opposed to that practice.
Her earlier fondness for natural alternative medicine had been tested when, in the spring of 2001, Somers shocked fans by revealing that she had breast cancer. With fans praying that she knew what she was doing, Somers treated the disease with her natural meds of choice, as well as surgery and radiation - ultimately, to great success. Because of her life-altering experience and with the passion she always exhibited, she became a breast cancer activist, working with the American Breast Cancer to educate and encourage others.
In 2003, the same year Somers received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she was reunited with her former "Three's Company" co-stars at the funeral of John Ritter, who died suddenly from a heart ailment. She had not spoken with many of them for over a decade, but thankfully had mended fences with Ritter before his premature death. In 2005, she made her Broadway debut in a one-woman show, "The Blonde in the Thunderbird," in which she recounted her life in stories and song. The production was met with near-universal negative reviews, closing within a month. Somers later received a special award from the USO that year for performing "Thunderbird" for military personnel and their families, as well as for previous tours she had done for the troops.
2007 opened on a disastrous note for Somers, when fires destroyed her Malibu home. Such a traumatic event did little to set her back, as she continued with her busy schedule of product promotion on the Home Shopping Network, sales on her web site, and self-help lectures around the country.
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