GLENDALE, Calif. – Jurors in the trial of a wrongful-death lawsuit against two of John Ritter's doctors heard the actor's voice Thursday as he reported to his wife in a phone message that he wasn't feeling well and thought he had food poisoning.
Ritter's widow, Amy Yasbeck, testified that the message was left just before he was taken to a hospital from the set of his hit TV show "8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter."
In the message, Ritter said, "Hi honey, this is John. I'm in my dressing room and not feeling very well. I think I have food poisoning. ... They're going to call a doctor to look at me."
Yasbeck said she spoke to Ritter when he called back a few minutes later to say he was going to probably miss an event at his daughter Stella's school that evening.
"He called back and said, 'Now I'm having chest pains and the nurse is coming and they're going to take me across the street,'" Yasbeck testified through tears.
She did not finish the story of his last day before the court session ended. She was to resume Monday.
Ritter's widow and children are suing a cardiologist who treated him at a Burbank hospital on the day he died in September 2003 and a radiologist who performed a body scan on Ritter two years earlier. They are seeking $67 million.
Ritter, 54, died of torn aorta but was treated for a heart attack. The plaintiffs claim the cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Lee, should have recognized the aortic dissection and that the radiologist, Dr. Matthew Lotysch, should have detected an enlargement of the aorta in the body scan. Both doctors dispute the claims.
Yasbeck told the jury how she and Ritter met when they appeared together in the movie "Problem Child" in 1989.
She said they then appeared in a sequel and by 1997 had moved in together. They were married in 1999.
Yasbeck said Ritter knew there were potential health problems in his family since his father, Western star Tex Ritter, died of a heart attack and his mother had suffered a major stroke. She said he was concerned about his health for those reasons.
"It came up all the time," she said. "He always wanted to lose weight. He worked out a lot."
She said he had undergone physicals when he applied for insurance in connection with his acting jobs.
In 2001, she said, he told her he was going to get a body scan. She said she had urged the procedure because she heard about it on Oprah Winfrey's TV show and knew that his ex-wife had undergone a similar scan.
When he returned from the procedure he showed her the results and "he said, 'This is good. This is not bad for a man of my age.' He said, 'You'd better be good to me because I'm going to be around for a long time,'" Yasbeck recalled.
"I just remember he was very positive about it like this was a good thing," she said.
Under questioning by her lawyer, Moses Lebovits, Yasbeck said she was sure that if Ritter had been told he had a vascular problem he would have told her.
The radiologist testified Wednesday he met with Ritter for about a half hour after the test and told him he had triple vessel coronary disease and should follow up with an internist or cardiologist.
Yasbeck indicated there was no mention of that.
In other testimony, forensic economist Tamara Hunt said that if Ritter had lived and his show had continued for seven years he could have earned nearly $41.9 million.
In an odd twist, Superior Court Judge Laura Matz said a woman juror's husband was going into a hospital Monday for a heart procedure but the juror was willing to come to court anyway. The juror planned to keep her cell phone on vibrate in case anything went wrong.