Suzanne Somers: The Woman Behind the Screen

Actress Suzanne Somers is no stranger to controversy. In fact, her whole life has been riddled with it. From being born into an unconventional home and to being fired from Three’s Company, that Playboy shoot debacle and supporting some questionable practices, this actress always seems to make her way into the headlines.

Two images of Suzanne Somers on the red carpet, one from the ‘80s and one from 2020
Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Suzanne has done it again, and this time it’s about her…ahem… adventurous life with husband Alan Hamel. So, what exactly makes Suzanne Somers tick? We’re looking at one of the biggest sitcom actresses of the ‘70s. Let’s just say there’s more to Suzanne than meets the eye. So, get comfortable because we’re taking a trip down memory lane.

“You Wait and See”

One of Suzanne’s first appearances was as a mysterious woman in a Ford Thunderbird who woos Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the 1973 cult classic film American Graffiti. At the time, Suzanne was a divorced single mother in debt. She needed all the money she could get. So, when the opportunity presented itself for Suzanne to say three words—“I love you”—she jumped at the opportunity.

Suzanne Somers posing for a portrait
Photo by Aaron Rapoport / Corbis / Getty Images

But after she got on the set, the actress realized that it was a dumb part, and she didn’t shy away from expressing her thoughts to director George Lucas. “He says, ‘No, no, no. You wait and see. Everybody will always remember the blonde in the Thunderbird,”’ Suzanne recalled.

A Silent Blonde

So, she gets into the car and after rehearsing nearly one hundred ways how to say, “I love you,” Suzanne felt that she was ready. “Then George comes up to me and says, ‘Oh, by the way, just mouth it,”’ the actress continued. And that’s how Suzanne’s career started, as a mute blonde. But, sadly, Suzanne was used to this type of existence.

Suzanne Somers driving a Thunderbird in the film American Graffiti
Source: Flickr

Born in San Bruno, California, Suzanne was one of four kids who were all terrorized by their alcoholic father. As a kid, Suzanne spent most of her nights hiding in a closet, terrified of what her drunken father might do. The actress lived in constant fear and was a bedwetter until the age of 12.

Finally Leaving Home

“It was humiliating, and my father made fun of me for it,” the actress later recalled. By the time she turned 17, Suzanne hit her breaking point. While getting ready for prom, the actress’s father ripped her prom dress right off her and told her that she was “nothing.” After years of abuse, Suzanne had finally enough. She grabbed a tennis racket and hit him over the head.

Suzanne Somers’ high school yearbook photo
Suzanne Somers’ High School yearbook photo. Photo by Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis / VCG / Getty Images

After that incident, Suzanne was more desperate than ever to get out of the house. That same year, she got pregnant and married her baby’s father, Bruce Somers. However, this was not a match made in heaven. They wed in 1965 and, by 1966, Suzanne found herself a divorced single mother at 18 years old.

More Trouble Ahead

“Getting pregnant and getting a divorce a year later only contributed to my low self-esteem and my need for constant crises,” Suzanne later confessed. But, unfortunately, this was just the start of Suzanne’s troubles. In 1970, the actress was arrested after attempting to use fraudulent checks totaling around 100 dollars.

Suzanne Somer’s mugshot
Photo by Kypros / Getty Images

Suzanne agreed to pay the amount back in full and was not prosecuted. Her car was later impounded, and she had a secret abortion after embarking on a wild affair with a married man (who later became her husband), Alan Hamel. “Back then I was lying, manipulating, hiding,” Suzanne recalled. “I blamed myself for everything.” Suzanne met Alan, who is ten years her senior, on the set of the Anniversary Game in the late ‘60s.

Taking Care of Herself

But Suzanne’s life was turned upside down when her six-year-old son Bruce was run over by a car in 1971. Thankfully, he survived the accident, but he had horrible nightmares and night sweats for months. It got so bad that Suzanne decided to take Bruce to a psychologist.

Suzanne Somers sitting at a table
Photo by Joan Adlen / Getty Images

Little did she know that Bruce’s treatment would soon lead her to her own. “The therapist told me I had the lowest self-esteem of anyone she’d ever met,” the actress confessed. “That was my turning point.” Suzanne decided to enroll herself in a therapy program.

Taking Life by the Horns

Suzanne remained in therapy for nearly three years, which led her to write her first book, Keeping Secrets in 1988. Writing the book was healing for Suzanne. She ended up forgiving her father and forgiving herself for the choices she had made.

Suzanne Somers sitting in a tree swing
Photo by Jeff Katz / Getty Images

“I learned Bruce’s accident allowed me to learn the greatest lesson in life: that I had value, that my father’s disease was not my disease, that I could choose to be a victim or take hold of my life,” the actress told The Tampa Bay Times in 1992.

A Pile of Bills

While Suzanne was on the road to recovery, she still had to figure out a way to pay her son’s mounting medical bills. In fact, Suzanne was facing financial disaster. She was a struggling model and actress who had yet to receive her big break.

Suzanne Somers in workout gear sitting in a studio
Photo by Aaron Rapoport / Corbis / Getty Images

One day she was offered a test shoot down in Mexico, and, of course, she jumped at the opportunity. But little did she know that the people there did not have her best interest in mind. The first incident happened a few days after she arrived at the hotel.

Scared for Her Life

“I went down to lie by the pool, and all of a sudden a creepy guy was there,” Suzanne told People magazine in 2017. According to the actress, the man (who worked at the hotel as a waiter) was completely drunk.

Suzanne Somers with a surfboard posing in front of the ocean blurred out
Photo by Jeff Katz / Getty Images

He walked up to Suzanne and offered her drugs, which she refused. He then tried to kiss her. “He fell all over me, and I ran into the house,” she said. “I was alone with this creepy guy and I thought, ‘There’s no one here who cares about me, if I run to the ocean what’s going to happen to me down there?’”

Somebody Help!

Suzanne remembers hiding behind a pillar in the living room, trying to “be as small” as she could. Her mind was racing, and of course, like anyone in the situation, Suzanne imagined the worst. “I had no power at all.”

Suzanne Somers in a field circa 1978
Photo by Saxon / Images / Getty Images

After what seemed like an eternity, three crew members from the photoshoot returned. Luckily, the waiter left Suzanne alone after the crew members asked him to fetch them some food. But it didn’t take long for the actress to notice that the crew members were also drunk. So, she quietly headed up to her room.

And It Gets Worse

When she woke up the next morning, Suzanne realized that she had gone from a terrifying night to an even more disturbing morning. When she opened her eyes, the actress realized that she was not alone in her room. The photographer from the test shoot was in her room taking pictures.

Suzanne Somers dancing at Studio 54
Photo by Robin Platzer / Images / Getty Images

“He’s telling me, ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful, you look so beautiful, and I shoot for Playboy, you have a good body, if you shot for Playboy you could get $15,000,’” Suzanne continued. “He said, ‘Let me just take some shots.’”

Declining Their Offer

Suzanne had agreed to the test shoot, but she did not agree to letting someone take pictures of her while she slept. That being said, Suzanne knew that the test photoshoot wasn’t enough money to cover her son’s medical bills.

Suzanne Somers holding her glasses towards the tip of her nose
Photo by Aaron Rapoport / Corbis / Getty Images

So, when the playboy photographer presented her with this “uncomfortable” offer, Suzanne consented “without consenting.” Years later, Suzanne learned that she had been chosen as a Playmate. But, by then, she was married to Alan Hamel and after discussing it with him, the actress decided to decline Playboy’s offer.

In for a Surprise

He told her, “Just remember, as long as you live, you’re always going to be thought of first as a Playmate.” Suzanne wanted to be known for her acting, not for some pictures that someone creepily took of her while she was sleeping. But, sadly, the ordeal didn’t end there.

Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers posing together after a taping of Three’s Company
Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Years later, the photos were published. The timing of the pictures couldn’t have been worse. They came out in 1980, which was right around the time when Three’s Company was one of the number one shows in America. And let’s just say that the public did not take it well.

Fixing Her Reputation

Suzanne was in trouble with the show as soon as the pictures came out. But it wasn’t just the show that was mad at her. One of her biggest sponsors, Ace Hardware, was furious, to say the least. Luckily for the actress, she was able to save her career.

Suzanne Somers posing in front of stacks of hay
Photo by Harry Langdon / Getty Images

She knew that she had to share her own side of the story, so she immediately went to journalist Vernon Scott with the Associated Press. “I cried all the way home [after the interview],” Suzanne said in 2017. She had no idea what was going to happen next.

On Her Side

Luckily for her, the public was on her side. “The next day (and I’m paraphrasing) the lead of the article was, ‘Why don’t we take better care of our girls?’ And he said, ‘What would you have done if you were in Miss Somers’s shoes?’”

Suzanne Somers leaning against a railing in front of the ocean
Photo by Jeff Katz / Getty Images

Suzanne received a massive amount of support from the public and rightfully so. She also decided to sue the publication, which reportedly gave her $50,000 in restitution. By now, Suzanne was an actress on a hit TV show, so she didn’t need the cash. Instead, she decided to donate her money to those in need.

Catching Her Big Break

Three’s Company first premiered in 1977. By then, the actress had already made guest appearances on shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, Love Boat, and One Day at a Time. So how did Suzanne get her big break on the hit ABC sitcom?

Suzanne Somers looking at photographs on the sofa with Joyce DeWitt
Source: / Copyright: ABC

After actresses Susan Lanier and Suzanne Zenor failed to impress producers during the first two test pilots, the showrunners were in a bind. Now, there are different versions of the story depending on who you ask. Some say that the president of ABC, Fred Silverman suggested Suzanne after seeing her on The Tonight Show.

Last-Minute Addition

However, other people claim that she was discovered after a producer was fast-forwarding through audition tapes when Suzanne’s caught his eye. Either way, Suzanne was asked to come in for an audition. The next day she was already shooting the third and final pilot episode.

John Ritter fainting while Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt catch him in the kitchen
Source: / Copyright: ABC

The actress was cast as Chrissy Snow, a stereotypical, ditsy blonde who worked as an office secretary. Fun fact: The brunette who distracts Jack (John Ritter) and causes him to fall off his bike in the opening credits is none other than Suzanne in a dark wig. We would have never known!

Knowing Her Worth

It’s no secret that Suzanne helped the show’s ratings. After its premiere in 1977, Three’s Company went on to become one of the top-rated shows in America. However, Suzanne’s time on the show came to a dramatic end after only three years.

Joyce and Suzanne peeking out from inside of a blue tent
Source: / Copyright: ABC

In 1980, Suzanne was on top of her game and after years of therapy, she finally knew her worth. When the time came for contract negotiations, Suzanne realized that male actors everywhere were making 10 to 15 times more than she was. So, of course, she gave the network a reasonable salary expectation—the equivalent of what her male costars were receiving.

“Who Do You Think You Are?”

The actress didn’t expect to walk away from the meeting jobless. So, what exactly happened? “The show’s response was, ‘Who do you think you are?’” Suzanne told People magazine. “They said, ‘John Ritter is the star.’” When the actress first signed on to the show, the actress agreed to $3,500 a week.

Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, Cher, and John Ritter sitting around a sofa during a live telethon
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

As Three’s Company’s rating began to climb, Suzanne’s salary jumped to $30,000. John Ritter, on the other hand, was reportedly making a whopping $150,000 a week. “I had the highest demographic of all women in television 18 to 49,” Suzanne continued.

“Back Me Up”

Now with a better understanding of how the industry worked (and how much money John Ritter was making), Suzanne headed into her contract negotiation for the series’ fifth season with equal pay in mind. Her costars already had their contracts set, and Suzanne made sure to let them know that she was going into her negotiations full force.

Suzanne and Alan on a sofa
Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel. Photo by David Strick / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

“I say to John and Joyce, ‘I’m going to ask for big money and a piece of the back end and you two back me up,’” she continued. So, Suzanne sent her husband, a former TV producer, to negotiate for her.

Confident in Her Decision

Alan asked for $150,000, which was not an unusual salary. In fact, it was the average salary that all male actors were making at the time. Before heading into the meeting, Alan called Suzanne asking her if she was sure about this. He thought that the meeting could easily “blow out of the water.”

Suzanne Somers being videotaped by Alan
Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

However, the actress was confident that she had the upper hand. “They’re not going to get rid of Chrissy,” she told her husband. But what Alan and Suzanne didn’t know was that ABC had just given the stars of Laverne & Shirley—Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams—the deal of a lifetime.

Setting an Example

So, what does that have to do with Suzanne? Well, according to her husband, ABC had just given Penny and Cindy a massive deal and they did not want other women to get it into their heads that they could negotiate higher contracts.

Laverne and Shirley sitting on the sofa
Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall in ‘Laverne and Shirley.’ Photo by Paramount Television / Fotos International / Getty Images

Since Suzanne just happened to be the next woman who went in to negotiate her contract, they wanted to make an example of her. Suzanne was not present during the meeting and waited at home anxiously for Alan to come back. When Alan finally walked in the door, she did not expect to hear what he said.

Didn’t See It Coming

“So, I hear the front door open, and I can tell by the way the door closes and the sound of his feet walking up the stairs that this is not good,” she recalled to People magazine. That’s when Alan told her that she had been fired. Suzanne was in disbelief.

Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel at Studio 54
Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel. Photo by Robin Platzer / Images / Getty Images

She was not expecting them to fire her from Three’s Company, especially since they had already begun filming the fifth season. Was ABC just going to fire her on the spot? What about Chrissy? Well, the network let her finish the season, but it was not business as usual.

Suzanne the Outsider

The show not only diminished her screen time but made her film on a completely different set. “They built this little side set; it was crazy what they did. They would have a police guard come meet me at the back door, walk me in,” Suzanne told reporters.

Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers in the kitchen in a scene from Three’s Company
Source: / Copyright: ABC

“I was not allowed to see anybody from the original show, only the wardrobe guy, who would bring me a pair of shorts and something.” On the spare set was a phone, a chair, and a lamp, with just one camera filming her speaking on the phone.

A Terrible Time

Suzanne remembers feeling that she was being punished for something she had done wrong. “It brought up all my old feelings of low self-worth,” the actress recalled. This demeaning treatment came on just because she asked to have the same salary as her male costar.

John Ritter and Suzanne Somers joking around at a taping
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

“It was just a terrible time.” Man, were the ‘80s a different time! Offset, Suzanne’s life wasn’t that much better. She went from being one of the most sought-after actresses in her demographic to not being able to get an interview with the press. Suzanne was stuck at a crossroads.

Plotting a Reinvention

“I sat home for the better part of the year, thinking, ‘Why did I do it? Here I had the world by the tail,’” Suzanne said in 2009. “‘Why did I think that I should be paid what they’re paying the men?’” But then, one day a lightbulb went on inside her head.

Suzanne Somers on the red carpet
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Instead of focusing on what she didn’t have, Suzanne realized that she needed to focus on what she did have. That’s when the actress realized that Three’s Company had given her a gift: visibility. So, instead of plotting a comeback, Suzanne focused on reinventing herself.

A Blessing in Disguise

“Did I like being fired? No, but maybe that was a veiled gift, also,” Suzanne explained to Good Housekeeping in 2019. “Maybe all the negatives in life are truly opportunities if you choose to look at it that way.” Soon, Suzanne was starring in a Las Vegas production with a 27-piece orchestra and 12 dancers.

Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers arriving at an event
Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Then, in 1987, Suzanne was awarded the Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year along with Frank Sinatra. By the late ‘80s, Suzanne went on to become the official spokesperson for Thighmaster. At the height of her infomercial fame, Suzanne went back to acting.

Quite the Entrepreneur

She was cast on a sitcom called She’s the Sherriff. The show was canceled after two seasons, but Suzanne didn’t let that get her down. In 1991, Suzanne was cast on Step by Step, which became a massive success for ABC’s youth-oriented Friday night lineup.

Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers sitting in bed in a scene from Step by Step
Source: / Copyright: ABC

The actress went on to release a series of books about her life, biopics, and she’s even ventured into the beauty industry. She has worn so many different hats over the years, and this all stemmed from asking for equal pay. The actress may have successfully rejuvenated her career, but she’s still managed to stir up some controversy along the way.

Stirring Up Controversy

Over the years, Suzanne has taken up writing content, and one of the topics she loves to cover is the Wiley protocol. Never heard of it? The Wiley Protocol is a type of hormone replacement therapy that uses hormones made from yams.

Suzanne Somers on the red carpet
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

According to Suzanne, this treatment turns back the clock and was especially useful while going through menopause. However, the actress has been criticized for promoting this treatment because it is potentially dangerous. There have been several concerns from doctors over the years especially since women have experienced serious side effects.

Rubbing More Feathers

Doctors also believe that the dosages are too high, and it is “scientifically unproven and dangerous.” Some even say that it is unethical because it is not FDA approved, nor is there an experienced scientific investigator leading the trial. But this isn’t the only time Suzanne has rubbed people in the health industry the wrong way.

Suzanne Somers posing lying on the ground near her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Photo by SGranitz / WireImage / Getty Images

Back in 2001, the actress was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation but publicly refused to go through with chemotherapy. Instead, she used mistletoe extract, as well as detoxing her body, to boost her immune system.

More Harm Than Good?

Then, in 2008, Suzanne was diagnosed with inoperable cancer by six different doctors, only to find out a week later that she had been misdiagnosed. This experience became the basis for her book Knockout, which talks about controversial and alternative cancer treatments.

Suzanne Somers with her husband Alan Hamel posing in front of Christmas gifts on a porch
Photo by David Livingston / Getty Images

While Suzanne is currently cancer-free, the American Cancer Society criticizes Suzanne’s approach and fears that other people will follow in her footsteps with high expectations. “I am very afraid that people are going to listen to her message and follow what she says and be harmed by it,” Dr. Otis Brawley, the Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, later said.

Keeping Herself Busy

In addition to championing alternative medicine, Suzanne is a huge advocate against water fluoridation. Fluoride has added to our water under the promise that it will prevent tooth decay. However, the actress argues that toothpaste bottles warn that the chemical can cause harm if swallowed.

Suzanne Somers on the red carpet in 1986 / Suzanne Somers on the red carpet in 2017
Photo by Ron Galella, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images / Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

So, of course, fighting against this involuntary addition to our water supply is another thing that keeps Suzanne busy. The actress has also fought against rumors of plastic surgery. The actress claims that she relies solely on holistic treatments; however, people think that she’s gone under the knife. But, hey, who are we to judge!

What’s Their Secret?

With so many changes and controversies in her life, there’s been one thing that has stayed the same: her husband, Alan Hamel. The couple has been happily married for over four decades. The actress also attributes her career rejuvenation to her husband’s support (he left his career in Canada to become Suzanne’s manager).

Alan Hamel and Suzanne Somers posing together
Alan Hamel and Suzanne Somers. Photo by Jeff Katz / Liaison / Getty Images

So, what’s their secret? Well, Suzanne admits that one of the biggest contributors is how much time they spend together. Suzanne has joked that they haven’t been away from each other for more than a day during their entire marriage.

Keeping the Romance Alive

In 2019, Suzanne opened up to People magazine about her relationship with her husband. “I’ve never enjoyed anybody in my whole life the way I enjoy Al,” the actress gushed. After years of traveling for their careers, Suzanne says that they have “redefined how we want to live our lives.”

Alan Hamel and Suzanne Somers on the red carpet
Alan Hamel and Suzanne Somers. Photo by Gabe Ginsberg / FilmMagic / Getty Images

They traded in cocktail parties and work trips for cozy nights at their home in Palm Springs. “And we are so content together,” the actress continued. “We dance together, and we have a cocktail together at night. It’s romantic and sexy. And it’s not old people romantic.”

Having a Blast

That same year, the actress made headlines that she and her husband get it on at least twice a day. But today, Suzanne revealed that that number has gone up since quarantine began back in March 2020. “At this stage of life, most people think that’s over the hill.”

Alan Hamel and Suzanne Somers waving and giving a thumbs up outdoors in front of a crowd
Alan Hamel and Suzanne Somers. Photo by MediaPunch / Bauer-Griffin / GC Images / Getty Images

“What time is it, noon? I had sex with him three times so far today,” the 74-year-old revealed on Heather Dubrow’s podcast. The actress also revealed that their relationship has always been amazing, and now that their kids are raised, they’re focusing on themselves. “Man, are we having fun.”