Johnny Whitaker lost 8 years of his life after playing the character ‘Jody’ on the TV series Family Affair. Today, he’s in his 60s and he’s just as busy as he’s ever been.
Like many child stars, Johnny Whitaker has had to struggle to transition to adulthood and to continue his entertainment career in the movie industry. But, he’s not given up and we’ve still got a lot to see of him.
But how did Johnny Whitaker get his start? How did he land his role on Family Affair and what has he been up to today?
Join FactsVerse to learn about Johnny Whitaker’s life and career and what he’s been up to lately…
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
John Orson Whitaker, Jr. was born in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles on December 13, 1959. He was the fifth of eight children and didn’t come from a show business family at all.
Being part of such a large family, it’s often difficult for a child to stand out from the crowd so to speak. But young Johnny destined to become a big star and become the voice of a generation. As he would later state, “if you’re over 45, you know who I am…”
Johnny began his acting career at the young age of 4. His first role was a Scotty Baldwin in the popular soap opera General Hospital. Two years later, in 1965, he appeared in an episode of the TV series Slattery’s People.
He made his film debut as Jerry Maxwell in the comedy film The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming! The same year he played ‘Freddy’ in the TV movie And Baby Makes Three!
That same year, in 1966, Johnny won the role of a lifetime and the rest is history…
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FAMILY AFFAIR and JOHNNY’S CHILDHOOD ACTING CAREER
Family Affair debuted in 1966 and ran for 5 seasons until its end in 1971. It followed a rich bachelor, Bill Davis, who suddenly has the responsibility of looking after his brother’s orphaned children.
One of the kids is young Jody, who played by Johnny Whitaker. The show made Johnny a star and made him one of the most popular child stars of his time. It also opened the door to many new opportunities for young Johnny. He won the role because he recommended by his co-star Brian Keith, with whom he starred in the hit movie The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming!
The show was a huge success and remains one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. To this day, Johnny Whitaker is recognized for his role on the show. While he’s part of a talented ensemble cast – he still managed to steal the show many times.
Even as a child, his acting was lauded, and he quickly became a celebrity due to his role as Jody. This role brought him the opportunity to appear in many other popular TV shows and movies.
Let’s have a look at some of Johnny’s other roles during his childhood.
In 1968, Johnny had a role as “Timmy Carter” on an episode of the popular Western series called Bonanza. The episode entitled ‘A Dream to Dream.’ In this episode, Hoss babysits two children who are neglected by their father.
Johnny played one of the children and in this role, he showed tremendous range. This episode remains one of the most popular episodes of the series and the storyline later adapted for an episode of The Little House on the Prairie.
To this day, many fans consider Johnny’s role in Bonanza as one of his best performances and one of the best performances of any child actor. He also had guest appearances on popular shows such as Lancer, Bewitched, and The Virginian.
In 1969, he had the lead role in the TV movie The Littlest Angel where he played a young boy adjusting to life in Heaven. He also appeared on Green Acres in two different episodes as two different characters in each. Family Affair truly made him a star and he was always a welcome addition to any TV episode.
Family Affair ended in 1971 when Johnny was 12 but his career didn’t slow down. He continued to find work in film and television. In 1971, he appeared in the two-part episode “Waste” on the show Gunsmoke – having previously appeared on the show in a 1967 episode as a different character.
In the “Waste” episodes, Johnny Whitaker played Willie Hubbard. This was a larger supporting role and once again gave Johnny a chance to show off his acting skills. The same year, he also appeared on an episode of the sitcom Marcus Welby MD.
He also appeared in a few great feature films in the early 1970s. In 1972, he played Lonnie McNeill in The Biscuit Eater. Once again, he was in a supporting role in an ensemble film but his performance still stands out today.
He also co-starred with Michael Douglas in the film Napoleon and Samantha and also had a role in the film Snowball Express. In both these films, he had a leading role and was lauded for his performances.
In retrospect, one would expect his career to continue going smoothly until his adulthood. But, in reality, there were challenges that came his way.
JOHNNY’S LATER LIFE AND WHAT HE’S UP TO TODAY
In the latter half of the 1970s, Johnny decided to slow down on his acting career. He wanted to finish high school and attend college.
Johnny briefly spent time in Portugal on a missionary trip as he raised as a Mormon. He attended Brigham Young University and studied directing and producing. He tried to settle in Utah, thinking he’d a natural fit because of his Mormon faith but eventually he returned to California which better suited him.
It was in the 1980s when life got much harder for Johnny Whitaker. His wife left him, and he turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with his grief.
It was during this time that Johnny Whitaker lost 8 years of his life. He spent 8 years drinking and taking drugs and not being productive as he was during his childhood and early teens. He briefly lost his faith in God and even turned away from his family.
His family gave him an ultimatum and told him he had to sober up. He managed to kick his habit and decided to take a new career turn as an addiction counselor. Johnny wanted to make sure that others didn’t go down the same dark path he had gone on. He had even seen the worst scenarios of drug addiction – as his co-star Anissa Jones died at the age of 18 due to her drug use.
He also decided that he had to get back into acting. While Family Affair had ended, Jody not forgotten. And neither were the numerous other roles that Johnny played in other TV shows and films. He still had – and has – a fanbase that adores him and he’s often given interviews to discuss his life and career.
He’s also revitalized his acting career. In 1998, after a very long hiatus, he appeared in a few episodes of the fantasy/mystery series Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction. In 2002, he appeared in one episode of the remake of Family Affair.
He took another long hiatus after this episode but made a full comeback in 2011. He acted as Craig Peterson in the TV movie Growing Up Normal. Two years later, he had a lead role in the family film A Talking Cat?!
He’s kept himself busy in feature films and especially TV movies. In the late 2010s, he returned to his roots and began acting in TV shows. He played ‘Zach’ in a few episodes of the series Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
In 2021, he appeared in an episode of TV Therapy. In this unique show, former child stars and other prominent TV actors appear as their character to discuss their life and career. Fans overjoyed to see Johnny Whitaker returning to play Jody and discuss his experience.
Johnny Whitaker is currently filming a TV series called ‘The Last Evangelist’ in which he plays a bishop. He’s in his sixties now and he’s just as busy as ever. In addition to his acting career, he also involved in his sister’s talent agency. He also worked as a computer consultant and still helps others overcome their addictions.
He’s managed to get his life back in order and he’s regularly giving interviews in which he discusses his childhood, his career, overcoming addiction, and what he’s up to today.
One of the biggest struggles of Johnny Whitaker’s life is that he lost 8 years due to his addiction and the troubles in his personal life. Many a child star have failed to transition to having a successful career as adults. Such seemed like Johnny’s fate but with his strong will and his faith in God, he’s managed to turn his life around. Let his life be an inspiration to us all.
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Johnny Whitaker? Did you grow up watching Family Affair?
In fact, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that most child actors are able to make a smooth transition to acting as adults?
Or do most of them struggle with fame and new opportunities when the childhood opportunities go away?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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