Happy Birthday Richard Thomas: Celebrating the John-Boy Walton Actor from ‘The Waltons’

by Robert Davis

Happy Birthday, Richard Thomas! The actor most known for his role as John-Boy Walton on the hit CBS drama “The Waltons,” turns 70 years old today.

Richard Earl Thomas was born in Manhattan in 1951. As the son of two former New York City Ballet members, some say he was born to perform.

According to his The Dallas Morning News page, Thomas began his acting career at age seven in a Broadway play called Sunrise at Campobello. By 1959, he appeared in an NBC television rendition of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Julie Harris, Christopher Plummer, and Hume Cronyn.

In an interview with Wide Open Country, he said his time as a child actor was one of the best times of his life.

“[The other actors] were wonderful to me. The idea of working very early on with older actors — from whom you obviously had a great deal to learn — this is part of the great thing about being a child actor. You’re apprenticing. You’re learning all the time,” Thomas said.

Richard Thomas’ Life on ‘The Waltons’

“The Waltons” was one of the most popular television shows during the 1970s. It spanned nine seasons, only five of which included Thomas. Though he made an early exit, fans still see John-Boy as one of the show’s most important characters.

In one of the show’s most memorable scenes, John-Boy’s father gives him some very sound advice on life and love.

“You see son, no one man can tell another man how to live,” John Walton says during the Season 4 episode entitled “The Fledgling.” “In the long run, I guess a man’s gotta do what he has to do. Some of us grow up in these families and become wood-choppers. Others of us go into politics or get rich in the stock market. But, we all grow old and die. The important thing is to find someone you can love, and that loves you back.”

Earl Hamner Jr., who created “The Waltons,” has often said that hiring Thomas to play John-Boy was one of the best decisions of his career.

“I was most thrilled to get Thomas for the role of John-Boy,” Hamner told Wide Open Country. “He was marvelous, and as it turned out, he was perfect in the role. I often said he made a better John-Boy than I did being me.”

Carrer Accomplishments

In 1973, Thomas won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series for playing John-Boy. The following year, he took home another Emmy for being the best lead actor in a drama series.

Thomas has also appeared in several contemporary films since winning his awards. He played the role of Shad in Battle Beyond Stars alongside George Peppard and Robert Vaughn. Thomas also played Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Loser’s Club and one of the protagonists in the movie IT.