The first time I met John Ritter was in the area in between ticketing and the baggage claim of United Airlines at Los Angeles International airport. He and his family had just returned from a trip and everyone looked like it was a really long flight. I did politely ask John if I could take his picture, and he quietly said no, explaining that his family was pretty beat from their flight. I told him that I was taking pictures of famous people so I could send them back to my mom, not to sell them to the rags.
Over the many months that I was posted there at the airport, I saw John Ritter more than any other celebrity. It got to the point where he eventually knew me by name, and then he would even seek me out if I didn’t spot him first at the airport. Each time he passed through he always had a very valid excuse for me not to take a picture of him for my mom. After all if he didn’t want his picture taken by me, why would he go out of his way to not only remember my name, but seek me out along his travels?
However, one week he came to me and said that he was going to some big event at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City and he promised after the event that he wouldn’t change and I could look for him coming down the hallway in his tuxedo, making a great picture. On the next night, there he was, all decked out in his “regular” clothes, looking again like and his clothes could use a good pressing. He came right up to me, put his arm around me and shook my hand and said, “Dean, I’m sorry I let you down again, but I’ve been thinking about this. I think it’s more important that you keep the memory of me from our friendship and not an image on film that will fade with time.” After a bit more tighter squeeze on my shoulder, John said, “A hug and a hand shake make for a better memory, don’t ya think?” How could I disagree?
Now I am actually honored to say that I never got John Ritter’s picture. The picture at the top of this entry was found on the Internet. And on September 11, 2003, two years after America lost so many lives in the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and in a field near Shanksville, PA, America lost one more hero.
A tear streams down my cheek now as I write this, because while John Ritter was like a friend to many Americans who brought him into their living rooms through their TV’s, for me, during that time in the early 1980’s, John Ritter was a friend. A friend whose memory I will always cherish more than any picture or rerun could.