‘The Waltons’ Helped Ralph Waite Through the Death of His Daughter

by Keeli Parkey

In times of tragedy, burying oneself in work is something many people do. The distraction is a welcome reprieve from the pain they are experiencing. Actor Ralph Waite found a reprieve from a personal tragedy in his work in the beloved television series, “The Waltons.”

From 1972 until 1981, Waite played John Walton in the family drama. A few years before he joined the cast, he experienced something no parent ever wants to go through. That was the death of a child. According to AmoMama, the child the actor lost was his eldest daughter. She passed away due to Leukemia in 1964. Life didn’t get much better for “The Waltons” star in the years after that. His marriage fell apart in 1969.

Before Ralph Waite found solace in his work on “The Waltons,” he turned to something else people often use to cope. This was alcohol. And, unfortunately, like so many others, he became addicted to the substance. Waite was a drinker before his eldest daughter passed away. Her death only drove him to drink even more.

Fortunately for the actor, he landed his role in “The Waltons.” He loved working on the still-beloved series. His love for the cast and his work in the show inspired him to get sober. It was filming a scene around the Walton family dinner table that really motivated Ralph Waite to make a change in his life.

One of his co-stars, Judy Norton, once talked about the decision Waite made to quit drinking. Norton played Mary Ellen Walton, the eldest of the Walton daughters.

“He credited the show for being the reason he got sober. He said, ‘I sat there one day at the kitchen table with all you kids and I felt like such a fake.’ He took himself to AA and got sober,” Norton once said.

‘The Waltons’ Star Ralph Waite Began Acting Thanks to a Friend

When you watch Ralph Waite perform as John Walton in “The Waltons,” it would be easy to assume that acting was something he did throughout his life. However, this was not the case. Waite only began acting after a friend suggested he take up the craft.

Waite thought that was a good idea, pretty much because he wasn’t sure what else he should do for a career. Obviously, Waite was a successful actor. Before he appeared on “The Waltons” he was a respected stage actor. Even after he began playing John Walton in the series, Waite’s love for the theatre continued.

In 1975, he created the Los Angeles Actors Theatre. And, as the saying goes, Waite put his “money where his mouth is” to support it. He spent $50,000 of his own money to bring revivals of “The Kitchen” and “The Hairy Ape” to the stage. He also served as an actor, director, and producer in these productions.

The Los Angeles Actors Theatre became a respected company and earned awards. One of the prizes it received was the Margaret Harford Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.

Ralph Waite passed away on Feb. 13, 2014. He was 85 years old at the time of his death.