Maybe Family Affair star Johnny Whitaker aged out of acting. Perhaps the break he took for college and a mission trip he took in the 1970s really did impact his career in Hollywood.
But for whatever reason, Whitaker didn’t transition well from child to adult actor. He was everywhere as a child, going from soap opera General Hospital to a movie, then onto Family Affair, one of the most popular shows on television.
By the time he hit his teenage years, Whitaker even starred in and helped produce a Saturday morning show. That was Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. He even played the lead in the movie, Tom Sawyer. He had credits in so many popular shows from Bonanza to Bewitched, from Green Acres to Gunsmoke and Marcus Welby, M.D. Plus, throw in some Disney movies for good measure.
Family Affair Star Turned Tragic Circumstances Into New Career
But he gained a new, post-acting career after the 1980s, when he used his bad circumstances to help others.
Let’s set that up. A few years after Family Affair, Whitaker went to BYU, then did a mission for the Mormon Church. He moved away from Utah and back to California. But since he couldn’t find work in the acting business, Whitaker did all sorts of jobs.
“I type 110 words a minute, so I started working and had to survive with my wife,” the Family Affair star told Fox News in a 2016 interview.
He said he was deeply religious, but lost his faith when his wife told him she was in love with the man who threw his bachelor party. That devastation placed him on a dark path. This was in the 1980s, when Whitaker said he became addicted to alcohol and drugs. The story sounds similar to other anecdotes from child stars who couldn’t find acting work as adults.
“It woke me up, gave me the wake up call that I needed and got clean and sober,” said the beloved Family Affair star. “And (he) found a new passion which is helping people in recovery.
Whitaker Became Counselor, But He Didn’t Give Up Acting
Whitaker eventually turned his life around, in part, because of some of the work he did. He became a counselor for patients trying to beat their addictions. And he also served as an advocate for prison reform.
“I believe I’ve done a lot of good. I still do acting jobs here and there,” Whitaker said. (And) I continue to act but it’s not my number one focus.
Whitaker then quoted another famous child star. “I think it was Christopher Knight from The Brady Bunch who said, Hollywood loves its puppies but once they became real adult dogs they kick them to the curb.”
It seems appropriate that Whitaker, who grew up on Family Affair, now teaches acting workshops for kids and adults. He has a world of knowledge about his craft. And he never really gave up acting. For example, he did a reboot of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters in 2016-17. Plus, he played Santa in the holiday movie A Husband for Christmas.