Suzanne Somers was an American actress, author, and businesswoman who gained fame for her roles in television shows, her fitness and wellness books, and her business ventures. Born on October 16, 1946, in San Bruno, California, as Suzanne Marie Mahoney, she had a diverse and successful career in the entertainment industry. Her mother, Marion Elizabeth, was a medical secretary, and her father, Francis Mahoney, was a laborer and gardener.
Suzanne has described how her father was physically abusive towards her mother. The physical abuse included violent confrontations and altercations within their household, which had a deeply unsettling impact on her early life. Her father’s abusive behavior was often linked to his struggles with alcoholism. She has mentioned that her father’s drinking problem exacerbated the violent episodes and created an unstable and turbulent family environment.
The abusive atmosphere in her home during her childhood left a lasting emotional impact on Suzanne Somers. She has spoken about the fear, trauma, and distress she experienced as a result of witnessing and enduring her father’s abusive behavior. She faced several challenges in her early life, including living in a rough neighborhood and dropping out of high school at the age of 16. She worked various jobs to support herself, including as a model and a cocktail waitress.
She then attended Lone Mountain College, a college run by the Catholic Society of the Sacred Heart order, but dropped out in 1965 when she found out she was pregnant. Suzanne married the father, Bruce Somers in 1965, and the couple had a son named Bruce Jr. in 1966. Her situation led to low self-esteem. She was arrested for check fraud and had her car impounded. They later divorced in 1968. After divorcing in 1968, to support herself, Somers worked as a prize model on “The Anniversary Game”, a game show hosted by Alan Hamel.
Although he was already married, they began dating and she had an affair with him that led to an abortion. They married in 1977. In 1969 and 1970 Suzanne appeared on Alan’s show, Anniversary Game.
She was in other shows like Mantrap (1971–1973), Lotsa Luck (1974), The Rockford Files (1974), Sky Heist (1975), The Six Million Dollar Man (1977), Starsky & Hutch (1975–79, 3 appearances), Match Game (1977),
The Love Boat (1977), One Day at a Time (1977), and Tattletales (1977). She also appeared in several films including Bullitt (1968), Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969), Fools (1970), American Graffiti (1973), Magnum Force (1973), Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977), and It Happened at Lakewood Manor (1977, TV movie).
She had made appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson which led to her being chosen to play Chrissy Snow, who exemplified many blonde stereotypes and was employed as an office secretary, on the ABC sitcom Three’s Company. The series co-starred John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Norman Fell (replaced later by Don Knotts).
The comedy is about two single women living with a single man who pretended to be gay in order to bypass the landlord’s policy of prohibiting single men from sharing an apartment with single women. The program was an instant success in the Nielsen ratings. Somers entered into a contract dispute with the producers of “Three’s Company.”
She sought a substantial salary increase to match her co-star John Ritter’s earnings, as she believed that her role was integral to the show’s success. The dispute over her contract and salary demands became a significant point of contention. Her role as Chrissy Snow was significantly reduced during the fifth season of “Three’s Company.” This reduction in her screen time was a response to the ongoing negotiations, and it impacted the dynamics of the show.
The contract negotiations ultimately broke down, leading to Suzanne Somers’ departure from “Three’s Company.” After leaving the series, her character, Chrissy, was written out of the show, and she was replaced by actress Priscilla Barnes. She rebounded from all this by appearing in other shows including Happily Ever After (1978), Zuma Beach (1978), Hollywood Wives (1985), Goodbye Charlie (1985), starring role in She’s the Sheriff (1987–1989),
Rich Men, Single Women (1990), co-star with Patrick Duffy in Step by Step (1991–1998), a starring role in The Suzanne Somers Show (1994–1995), Full House (1994), a TV series hosted by David Cassidy, Leif Garrett, and Suzanne Somers called 8-Track Flashback (1995–1998), co-host of Candid Camera (1997 to 2000), and a contestant on Dancing with the Stars (2015). She was also in more movies including Zuma Beach (1978, TV movie), Yesterday’s Hero (1979), Nothing Personal (1980), Totally Minnie (1988, TV movie),
Serial Mom (1994), The Nutty Professor (1996), Rusty: A Dog’s Tale (1998), and Say It Isn’t So (2001). Somers appeared in two Playboy cover-feature nude pictorials, in 1980 and 1984. Her first set of nude photos was taken by Stan Malinowski in February 1970 when Somers was a struggling model and actress and did a test photoshoot for the magazine. She was accepted as a Playmate candidate in 1971, but declined to pose nude before the actual shoot.
During an appearance on The Tonight Show in 1980, she denied ever posing nude, except for a High Society topless photo. This prompted Playboy to publish photos from the 1970 Malinowski shoot, without her permission. Somers’ original motivation for posing nude was to be able to pay medical bills related to injuries her son Bruce Jr. suffered in a car accident. By the time the photos were published, her son was 14 and Somers feared seeing his mother posing nude would be difficult for him.
Somers sued Playboy and settled for $50,000, which was donated to charity, with at least $10,000 of it going to Easterseals. The second nude pictorial by Richard Fegley appeared in December 1984 in an attempt by Somers to regain her diminished popularity after the Three’s Company debacle in 1981. Despite her anger and the earlier lawsuit, Playboy approached her earlier that year to pose nude a second time.
Initially she was angered again, but eventually agreed after discussing it with her family. She felt she would have a better chance to control the quality of the photos the second time, and having such control was an important condition that Somers attached to posing. Despite Somers’ earlier belief that her son would not want to see his mother nude, her then 18-year-old son did view the second pictorial.
Suzanne Somers’ ThighMaster business, launched in the 1990s, became a significant part of her brand and contributed to her reputation as a fitness and wellness guru. The ThighMaster was a simple and portable exercise device designed to tone and strengthen the muscles of the inner and outer thighs. It gained immense popularity through infomercials and home shopping networks, making it a household fitness product. The ThighMaster’s success led to the expansion of the Suzanne Somers brand to include other fitness and wellness products.
It also marked a shift in her career from acting to entrepreneurship, as she became known for promoting health and fitness in addition to her work in entertainment. Somers authored more than two dozen wellness books, many of which became New York Times best sellers. In recent years, she partnered on several natural beauty products. In 2001, Somers was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation but declined chemotherapy.
Suzanne Somers died at her home in Palm Springs, California on October 15, 2023, one day before her 77th birthday. Her breast cancer had returned earlier in the year. Somers is survived by her “blended family” — Hamel, her son Bruce (57), her stepchildren, Stephen and Leslie, and her six grandchildren.
- “Suzanne Somers, ‘Three’s Company’ actress, dead at 76” (October 15, 2023) https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/15/entertainment/suzanne-somers-death/index.html
- “Suzanne Somers” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Somers
- “Suzanne Somers, Three’s Company and Step by Step Actress, Dead at 76” (October 15, 2023) https://people.com/suzanne-somers-dead-at-76-8358227
- “Suzanne Somers, ‘Three’s Company’ Actress, Dead at 76” (OCTOBER 15, 2023) https://www.rollingstone.com/tv-movies/tv-movie-news/suzanne-somers-threes-company-actress-dead-obit-1234854796/
- “Suzanne Somers Biography” https://www.tvguide.com/celebrities/suzanne-somers/bio/3000054938/
- “39 Facts About Suzanne Somers” (Aug 23, 2023) https://facts.net/celebrity/39-facts-about-suzanne-somers/
- “Suzanne Somers” (n.d.). https://www.suzannesomers.com/