Suzanne Somers Was Fired from Three's Company After Fighting for Equal Pay — and She Still Doesn't Regret a Thing
The TV legend-turned-author opened up to InStyle about her career, her 27th book, and that birthday suit photo.
When you’ve been in the public eye for over forty years, people tend to think they know you. It's an aspect of celebrity that Suzanne Somers, who got her big break playing lovable yet ditzy receptionist Chrissy Snow on the '70s sitcom Three’s Company, is pretty familiar with.
“I came to fame as the dumbest woman in America,” Somers says with a laugh. “But I was acting! The problem was, I was really good at it.” Somers has, of course, reinvented herself many times since then, going on to star in '90s TGIF staple Step by Step, kicking off a fitness craze (hello, ThighMaster), and writing 27 books, mostly about health and wellness. But there’s still a lot to learn about the now 73-year-old, who can best be described as an open book herself.
Most recently, Somers embarked on a press tour to promote her new health guide, A New Way to Age, which brought her to N.Y.C. last month. Within the first five minutes of meeting her, I learned that she’s still madly in love with her husband of 42 years, Alan Hamel (they have sex twice a day, she says gleefully), she loves fashion (she wore a leather miniskirt, Prada bag, and nude pumps despite a recent hip injury), oh, and she also loves tequila.
When she’s at her Palm Springs, Calif. home, Somers says her and her husband regularly have Patron Silver on the rocks around 5 p.m., and then “see where the night takes them.” Usually they meet at Big Al’s, a bar on their property, but when we met they were clinking glasses at the grand salon and bar at Midtown Manhattan’s Bacarrat Hotel. Sitting down with InStyle, Somers toasts to her new book, and chats about everything from her workout routine, to taking naked selfies, to why she doesn’t consider herself a TV icon.
Congrats on the new book! Did you ever imagine you'd be the author of 27 books?
No! It impresses me because it wasn't my plan. But I’ve learned to follow the flow that life takes you on. Don't fight it because you’ll probably end up doing the right thing.
How is this new book different from the others?
When you first hit your 70s, it’s like, whoa. But then this year, I turned 73, and I thought, I'm chronologically old, but I don’t actually feel old at all. I figured that other women would like to know how they could feel that way too. Knowledge is power, so for about a year and a half, I gathered research and interviewed doctors about the most cutting-edge advances in anti-aging, and then the book kind of wrote itself. Sometimes I get into a flow where I’ll write for 16 hours a day and my husband just starts bringing me food. [Laughs]
What inspired you to start writing about health and wellness in the first place?
I’d always had a great figure, and then all the sudden, around 40, I started gaining weight that I didn't understand. It happens to a lot of women. And it doesn't matter that you don't eat dairy and you give up sugar, you're going to get puffy, and it's awful. I’d heard about food combining, and so I started researching it. With food combining, you don't eat protein and carbohydrates together because the body accepts them both as sugar, and if they're both accepted as sugar, you gain weight. I got really into it and I ended up writing nine Somersize books and sold millions of copies.
Three’s Company re-runs are still playing on TV over 40 years after the show started. Are you surprised that it’s still so beloved?
It sort of shocks me. When I do press and I'm introduced as iconic or something, I go, "Really?" Because I live a quiet kind of life now. With Step by Step, it came at a moment in time when we all knew what the TV lineup was because there wasn't a lot of content. And now, there's so many shows on Netflix and everything. A while back, I was at a dinner party next to this guy, and I said, "What do you do?" And he said, "I'm with Netflix." And I said, "Oh, I don't know how to access that — I don’t even know how to work my clicker." And he goes, "Well, you get a box, and you do this and that.” Turns out, I was talking to Ted Sarandos, the [chief content officer] of Netflix. That's when I go into Chrissy Snow mode and play dumb. [Laughs]
You were famously let go from the show when you asked for equal pay. How do you look back on what happened?
Well, I was fired for asking to be paid commensurate with the men. I was ahead of the curve on that. The men on the show were being paid 10 to 15 times more, and I thought, 'Why? Are they 10 to 15 times better than me?' It wasn't even about being a feminist, it was more like, I'm selling more tickets than any of them. And shouldn’t it be about how many tickets you sell and how many viewers you have? After I was fired, I couldn't get a job. And I still don’t know what they told the cast, but everyone turned against me. So much so that I remember walking down Rodeo [Drive] one day, and the wardrobe guy who I created the Chrissy outfit with — you know, the sandals and the hot pants — saw me and crossed the street. It was sad.
You made amends with John Ritter before he passed away in 2003, right?
I hadn’t talked to John in 20 or 30 years, and then one day, I was at a beauty salon in the Valley getting my hair washed, and the receptionist came up, and said, "You have a phone call — it's John Ritter." So, I go in, with the soap dripping, and I go, "John?" He says, "Hey babe, I forgive you." I thought, 'You forgive me?' I'm the one who was fired and lost my job. But then I decided to put on my big girl pants. So I said, "Thank you." And that was a hard thank you because I realized he didn't even know what had really happened. He told me he was doing a show called 8 Simple Rules, and he pitched an idea to me where his character has a nightmare, and Joyce and I were in it. I knew there was a hunger for people to see us together again, but after all these years, I told him I didn’t want to come back as his nightmare. So we agreed to work on something else together down the line, and then he died one week later.
Would you ever go back to acting?
I would. I've been offered a lot of things, but I've turned everything down because I’ve had the greatest gigs ever. I mean, Carole Lambert on Step by Step wasn't the greatest gig ever in terms of my work as an actress, but people liked the show so much and I loved having my other TV husband, Patrick Duffy. We had great chemistry, we never fought, we had so much fun, and we still keep in touch.
You're in such great shape. What's your workout routine like these days?
I’ve done yoga every other day for 19 years and I will do it for the rest of my life. I have a teacher come to my house in the mornings and I never dread it.
Do you still use the ThighMaster?
Always! Recently though, I hurt my hip — I'd love to say I had so much sex and that’s how I fractured it, but it was a stress fracture. [Laughs] One of the things that I said to the doctor after it happened was, "When can I do the ThighMaster?”
On your 73rd birthday last year, you Instagrammed a shot in your actual birthday suit that’s gotten over 40k likes. What inspired the shot?
Alan and I were walking on our property in Palm Springs and I said, "Look at this grass, it's the same color as my hair." I’m a visual person, so I leaned down and then I thought it would be such a great shot. And I mean, I've still got juice. Some women talk about this sentence of invisibility, like when you reach a certain age, men don't see you, no one sees you. I’m not going that way. So on my 73rd birthday, that shot was like, 'This is my birthday suit and I‘m not invisible.' What I really want women to know is, it ain't over.