‘The Waltons’: Why Did Michael Learned Exit the Series?

by Taylor Cunningham

Michael Learned was a lead star in The Waltons for seven years. Then out of the blue, she mysteriously made an exit from the classic TV show that likely left fans wondering if there was some behind-the-scenes drama.

The last time she appeared on Walton Mountain was during a season 8 installment titled The Waiting. Following that episode, the show wrote her off by saying that her character, Olivia, went to Arizona to be treated for tuberculosis.

However, the series lasted one more season. And while a person would have hypothetically recovered in that much time, The Waltons’ matriarch didn’t come back from the hospital until the reunion movies.

But surprisingly, bad blood had nothing to do with Michael Learned’s departure. The real reason the actress left was that she was simply burnt out by the “stop and start” filming of the show.

“On a television thing it’s so minute, the moments are so minute,” she told The Washington Post in 1979. “It’s stop and start, stop and start. In a scene where there’s any real emotion, it’s very hard to dredge that up and then be stopped and then wait for half an hour and then dredge it up again.”

“There are times…when I just want her [Olivia] to get off my back,” she added.

Michael Learned Later Regretted Leaving ‘The Waltons’

However, Michael Learned sometimes wished she hadn’t walked away from The Walton.

“There’s been times when I’ve regretted it only in that it probably would have been better to complete the whole show,” she told Fox News in 2017. The remaining cast only filmed 36 more episodes after she left.

“But…I just couldn’t do it anymore…,” Learned added. “And also, I felt a lot of the times I was sitting around for 14 hours saying, ‘More coffee John.’ The fact is, I was bored. And I thought I had enough money, which wasn’t true.”

However, when Learned left The Waltons, she didn’t leave the industry. Today, the actress is 83 years old. And she’s still making movies and series.

Only three years after leaving the wholesome drama, Learned stared alongside Robert Reed in the made-for-TV movie Nurse. And her performance won her a fourth Emmy. Then, over the years, she starred in shows like Scrubs, General Hospital, and Living Dolls. She even has a mini-series called Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story coming out later this year.

And she’s more than happy to keep up with her career.

“I love to work,” she told Fox News in a 2017 interview. “When I’m at home all I do is housework and grocery shopping—it’s so boring! So when I go away to work, I feel alive again.”