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The Heartbreaking Death of Anissa Jones, Buffy from Family Affair

Whatever happened to Anissa Jones? She played Buffy – no, not the vampire slayer – but the adorable little girl that viewers couldn’t help but fall in love with on CBS’s Family Affair.

Sadly, her story is one that is full of tragedy, heartbreak, and controversy. And just like that other Buffy, Anissa was pitted against a legion of demons – albeit hers were of the metaphorical variety.

Although it’s not quite as common today as it once was, Hollywood has a terrible history of totally destroying the lives of child stars. Corey Haim, Drew Barrymore, Amanda Bynes, Macaulay Culkin – so many kids went through their own private hell after being tossed aside by the same industry that made them who they were.

She fell into the same trap that claimed the lives of so many other child actors. She experienced success faster than she had anticipated and after Family Affair wrapped up in 1971, she found herself typecast and unable to find decent work.

Her frustration quickly turned to desperation as she plunged deeper into the depths of despair brought on by drugs and alcohol. When she finally was given access to her television earnings, she quickly spiraled downwards with reckless abandon.

Anissa’s drug abuse would eventually claim her life. In the end, it was a toxic combo of cocaine, PCP, Quaaludes and barbiturates that did her in. She was just 18 years old when she passed.  She had her whole life left to live but sadly she never got that opportunity.

This is Anissa Jones’s heartbreaking true story.

It’s A Family Affair

She was just 8 years old when she was cast as Buffy on Family Affair. The series ran from 1966 to 1971. The show’s plot revolved around Buffy and her twin brother Jody played by Johnny Whitaker, and their older sister Cissy, portrayed by Kathy Garver. The kids were orphaned after their parents were involved in a tragic car accident, so they end up going to live with their uncle in New York.

Uncle Bill, played by Brian Keith, is a perpetual bachelor who doesn’t have any experience caring for children, so he turns to his valet, Mr. French, played by Sebastian Cabot, for assistance.

The show was the creation of Don Fedderson who had previously developed the Fred MacMurray series My Three Sons. Although on the surface, the show was pretty saccharine, it still managed to connect with the audience. Considering the fact that the series originally aired at 9:30pm, it’s pretty safe to safe that the audience was comprised primarily of adults as well.

The show’s premise was indeed pretty simplistic and not altogether original but it’s strength came from it’s heart. And much of that came straight from Anissa. As an actress, she was a natural. As the Independent Star Newspaper of Pasadena California reported in 1966, viewers loved the way that she was able to convey on screen a child’s feelings of rejection, sadness, fun, stubbornness, pride and wide-eyed imagination – at times, she would embody all of these qualities in the same episode.

A lot of kids dream of being on television, but life as a child actor can be very demanding. Long hours on set can disrupt a child’s learning process. Since they are often home-schooled and isolated from other kids their own age, their education and socialization can be stunted.

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And you’re for sure going to want to keep watching. In a minute we’ll go over the circumstances surrounding Anissa’s death. We should probably warn you though, there’s a lot more to the story than you might think. 

Lunch Boxes and Paper Dolls

Buffy was well-known for loving her favorite doll Mrs. Beasley. The toy was even offered by Mattel as a promotional gimmick for a while. Other toys and merchandise items that were marketed included lunch boxes, paper dolls, coloring books, clothing items, and even a cookbook featuring Buffy’s likeness on the cover.

When family affair was canceled, Anissa was 13 years old and she was more than grateful to not have to hold that doll any longer.

Outside of Family Affair, Anissa Jones made the typical celebrity guest circuit making appearances on talk and variety shows like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-IN, The Dick Cavett Show and The Mike Douglas Show.

Anissa appeared in just one movie as Carol Bix in the Elvis Presley film The Trouble With Girls. There were numerous other kids in the film including a very famous co-star, Susan Olson, aka Cindy Brady from the The Brady Bunch.

Not All That’s Golden…

It should come as no surprise to anyone that being a child star comes with it’s own unique sets of challenges, dangers and pitfalls. What Anissa had to deal with was more trying than what most stars have to deal with.

Her life started out fairly normal. Mary Anissa Jones was born on March 11, 1958 in Lafayette, Indiana. Her dad, John Paul Jones, held a graduate degree in engineering that he received at Purdue. That’s where he met Anissa’s mother, Mary Paula Jones, who was there studying zoology.

Shortly after she was born, her whole family made the move out to Playa Del Rey, California where her dad had landed a job in the aerospace industry as an engineer. 

Anissa’s life after Family Affair was particularly challenging for Anissa. She had dreamed of continuing her acting career in films but she couldn’t find the right roles that she was hoping for.

She auditioned for the lead in 1973s horror classic The Exorcist but she was turned down and the role was handed to Linda Blair instead. Everyone knew her as Buffy, which made it very difficult for her to score more adult roles.

Brian Keith tried to give her a part in The Brian Keith Show which aired from 1972 to 1974 but by that time she was already burnt out working on television so she turned him down. She was also given the chance to audition for a role in Taxi Driver but she declined that opportunity as well.

Anissa felt as if she was typecast – and to be fair, she was. The fact that she couldn’t shake her image as little Buffy meant that it was immensely difficult – if not impossible – for her to get a different type of role.

She probably felt trapped by her situation, like her life was already over before it even really started.

Bad Choices And Mounting Frustration

A year before she was hired on as Buffy on Family Affair, her parents went through a rather jarring divorce complete with a long and arduous custody battle over her and her little brother.

Shortly after being awarded custody, her father passed away from heart failure in 1973. He was just 44 years old when he died.  After his death, Anissa went to go live with a family friend while her little brother went to live with their mother.

It was right around this time that Anissa started acting up and getting into trouble. She started skipping school and she even ended up getting arrested after running away from home. For several months she was confined to a juvenile detention center but after she was released, she went to live with her mother with her brother.

That’s when she started taking drugs and shoplifting. By 1975, she chose to drop out of High School.

In March 1976 Anissa turned 18 and gained control of her Family Affair earnings. Suddenly she had access to $180,000 in cash and an undisclosed amount of money from US saving bonds that were held for her in a trust fund.

She ended up renting an apartment with her brother not too far away from her Mother’s place. In 1976, she went to a beach party with a new boyfriend. Just a few hours after arriving she was found dead in one of the bedrooms of her 14-year-old friend’s home.

Officially, her death was ruled an accidental overdose. She had cocaine, PCP, Quaaludes and Seconal – a potent barbiturate – in her system at the time of her death. There was also a vial of blue liquid found near her body that was never identified, although some have speculated that it might have been LSD or GHB.

She was just 18 when she died. Sadly, her death wasn’t altogether unexpected. Her life had been in a state of decline for years. Anissa’s body was cremated and her ashes were spread over the Pacific Ocean.

Of the 180 grand that she had received when she turned 18, she only had $63,000 left and another $100,000 left in savings bonds. That means, that in the 6 months of being a legal adult, Jones had spent $117,000 dollars.

Anissa’s doctor was arrested just six days after her death. Dr. Moshos was charged with illegally prescribing her the medication Seconal. An envelope was found  at the scene of Anissa’s death specifying the name of the drug, it’s dosage, quantity, and the recipients last name – Jones.

Moshos was charged with 11 offenses including prescribing narcotics for profit, but while he was awaiting trial, he died on December 27, 1976. His murder charges were dropped but Jones family still sued his estate for $400,000. The judge ultimately ruled that he was only 30 percent liable for Jones death and her family was awarded $79,500.

In another painful twist of fate, Anissa’s little brother, Paul, also died of a drug overdose on March 15, 1984. He was just 24 years old. Jones’s mother, Mary Paula Jones, outlived her entire family. She died in Detroit Michigan of natural cause on January 14, 2012.

Anissa Jones didn’t need to die. She was much too young. She literally had her whole life ahead of her. Sure, she might have felt typecast, but if she stuck around just a little while longer, the right role would have come her way eventually. But instead she chose to throw her life away with hard drugs and her reckless behavior.

To be fair though, none of us can say that we really knew what she was going through at the time. If her experience  was like some other child stars, she may have been dealing with hidden traumas and pain that we can’t even imagine.

Anyway, we’d love to hear a little feedback from you. Do you think Anissa would have found more success in Hollywood if she hadn’t died so young or do you think that her acting career was essentially over after Family Affair’s series finale? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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