Actress Suzanne Somers passed away, leaving behind a legacy of excellent comedic performances, a fitness empire, and a famous equal-pay fight. (Credit: The Heart Truth, Wikimedia Commons)

Actress and fitness entrepreneur Suzanne Somers died this past weekend, following a decades-long battle with breast cancer. 

She’s remembered most for her star-making performances on ABC hit sitcoms “Three’s Company” and “Step by Step;” her second act as an exercise guru and creator of the now-iconic Thighmaster, which she said made her millions; and her prolific work as the author of several biographies, diet books and poetry collections. She also courted controversy with the views she espoused around alternative medical treatments.

But while one can question the veracity of those claims, there was another time in her career when Somers was fully in-the-right for speaking up, in a bid to close the gender pay gap by fighting for her fair share.

In 1980, after the fourth season of “Three’s Company” – in which she brought high-energy, oft-clueless receptionist Chrissy Snow to life through a subversively smart performance – Somers demanded a pay hike of $30,000 per episode, to match the rate paid to male co-star John Ritter. She said she was instantly shut down – then fired, and subsequently blackballed for years.

For a long while, she said she felt adrift. “I probably would have never left [a] network series,” she told People in a 2020 interview. “I would have kept on going and probably been in every sitcom after that were it not to end the way it ended. But I was ostracized. So I went away.”

Pay parity remains elusive – in Hollywood, and beyond. When it comes to the entertainment industry, women pull in about 80% of what their male counterparts do. On a global scale, women earn roughly 77 cents for every $1 a man makes. The problem is so persistent, there has even been Nobel-Prize-worthy work done to sort out solutions.

Somers, for her part, used the studio’s rejection of her equal-pay demand as an opportunity to launch her fitness brand – a move that worked out in her financial favor. She would then go on to play Carol Foster Lambert on “Step by Step” for much of the 1990s. “That was the great thing about being fired: I would have never been able to do what I do now,” she noted. 

Somers, who stayed active and relevant despite roadblocks put up by sexist studio executives and her myriad health struggles, found acceptance through the ordeal. “All careers hit walls. But I reinvent myself – and I keep going.”

Following the announcement of her passing, scores of prominent people published tributes and remembrances to the deceased performer on social media. “You were a joy and forever young,” wrote actress Viola Davis, who recalled watching Somers perform while growing up. 

Added fellow business owner and TV personality Bethenny Frankel: “I had the pleasure of getting to know her. She is a force, she is groundbreaking, she is love.”