Ritter's 'Santa' stint another awkward exit

After ABC’s tacky posthumous ads for John Ritter’s “8 Simple Rules …” sitcom, audiences are properly conditioned for his less-than-sympathetic turn in “Bad Santa.”

The likable comedian’s cinematic swan song as the spineless mall manager may not elicit warm fuzzies, but such is the way of many stars.

Unlike in music or painting, where dying can be a shrewd career move, in film one of the toughest things to plan is which part will be your last.

Sometimes things work out fine: Bob Hope last appeared in 1979 as an ice cream man in “The Muppet Movie.” Spencer Tracy ended with “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Cancer-stricken John Wayne exited memorably as a cancer-stricken gunfighter in “The Shootist.”

Like many others, Richard Farnsworth and Ann Sothern earned Oscar nominations with their final work.

Other times, the legacy of the last film does not match the star’s own. Raul Julia’s finale was videogame-based shoot-‘em-up “Street Fighter.” Fred Astaire’s was middling horror pic “Ghost Story.”

Some actors are remembered for the f/x wizardry that preserved their final role, as with Oliver Reed in “Gladiator,” Brandon Lee in “The Crow” and Nancy Marchand in HBO’s “The Sopranos.”

Perhaps mindful of all of this, Peter O’Toole rejected at first a lifetime achievement award overture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences last year, saying he had more acting in him.

If nothing else, his part in next summer’s “Troy” should help obscure the memory of his appearance in CBS’ “Hitler” miniseries.

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