How ‘The Waltons’ Helped Ralph Waite ‘Get Sober and Stay Sober’

by Leanne Stahulak

While the cast members of “The Waltons” remember many happy occasions on the set of the show, they also remember the more serious moments.

One of those moments, Judy Norton discussed in a recent interview with Closer Weekly. Norton played Mary-Ellen Walton in the classic TV drama, and Ralph Waite played her father, John Walton Sr. At the time, Waite apparently struggled severely with alcoholism. But being part of “The Waltons” and surrounded by people he loved motivated Waite to battle his addiction.

“He credited the show with being the reason why he got sober and stayed sober,” Norton told the outlet. “He said, ‘I sat there one day at the kitchen table, and I felt like such a fake.’ And he took himself to AA.”

On top of that, Waite also reportedly went through a painful divorce. But he encountered several happy moments as well on “The Waltons” set. Michael Learned, who played John Sr.’s wife Olivia, said that the cast remained tight-knit right up until Waite’s death in 2014 at age 85.

The whole cast got together for a dinner at Learned’s house just a few months before he passed. Apparently, he addressed a running joke during the dinner about how he couldn’t remember the seven Walton kids’ names in real life. “After dinner, he addressed each of the kids by name,” Learned said. “It was really touching.”

Judy Norton Tributes ‘The Waltons’ Co-Star Ralph Waite

Many of “The Waltons” cast members were devastated by Ralph Waite’s passing in 2014. They continue tributing him to this day, as recently as last weekend’s Father’s Day celebration.

Judy Norton clearly remained close with Waite up until his death. While she was one of seven onscreen children, she took the time to develop a close relationship with Waite in the show and in real life. Earlier this week, Norton posted a throwback photo of the Walton family to honor Waite on Father’s Day.

“To the best ‘Daddy’ on TV. Miss you so much,” Norton captioned her post.

This isn’t the first time Norton has posted about Waite in honor of Father’s Day. Two years ago, in 2020, she did the same thing, and also posted for his birthday on June 23.

“I was so moved by all of your beautiful comments about Ralph Waite when I posted our picture for Father’s Day. I know how much he meant to me – and I felt through your remarks how much he meant to you as well,” Norton began in her caption.

“Yesterday would have been his birthday and I couldn’t let it pass without paying tribute once again,” she continued. “I loved the twinkle in his blue eyes – that mischievous grin that couldn’t help but bring out an answering smile. He used it to disarm Olivia’s irritation numerous times. Ralph himself humorously referred to his ‘baby blues’ – but I’m not sure he truly understood the impact they had on all the rest of us.”

Norton concluded, “Thank you for cherishing him – as I did. Happy Birthday, Ralph.”