Remembering Buddy From 'Family': Kristy McNichol Is 59 And Retired From Acting Two Decades Ago

Sep 28, 2021 by apost team

Kristy McNichol is a retired actress best known for her roles in the film "Little Darlings" and in television series such as "Empty Nest" and "Family." Portraying Letitia "Buddy" Lawrence in the latter was one of the most notable roles in McNichol's career. Not only was the show a massive hit, but McNichol had also begun earning recognition in the acting industry. Along with her talent as an actress, McNichol had also proven herself to be a great musician and always had an abundance of charisma and personality to make her shine even more.

McNichol was born on Sept. 11, 1962, in Los Angeles. At a young age, she already discovered a passion for acting and worked hard at trying to make it big in Hollywood. Although the rising star did not always have it easy as her parents sometimes struggled to make ends meet, both she and her brother continued to pursue a career in acting. When she was only 6 years old, McNichol began landing jobs to appear in commercials before moving forward to star on the small screen.

The rising star quickly found success in the industry and had even won awards for her accomplishments as an actress, but McNichol had begun having some personal issues with her mental health. She had taken a backseat during some of her jobs, before finally stepping away from the spotlight altogether. Despite having such a pivotal role in the entertainment industry at a young age, McNichol later removed herself from the world of acting and retired in the late 1990s. She later made her decision public in 2001.

Her Outstanding Career

Kristy McNichol, Carolyn McNichol, Jimmy McNichol (circa 1973) (Saxon/IMAGES/Getty Images)

After finding some success in commercials and TV roles, McNichol landed one of her biggest roles to date, when she was cast as Buddy in the TV drama series "Family." The show aired from 1976 until 1980 on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) television network. With a total of 86 episodes, creative control over the show was shared between executive producers Leonard GoldbergAaron Spelling, and Mike Nichols. It was a massive hit with fans and critics alike for showcasing the hardships that many families go through. For its time, the show portrayed a contemporary, middle-class family with believable and realistic characters. 

The main stars of the series were Sada Thompson and James Broderick, who played the married couple of Kate and Doug Lawrence living in Pasadena, California. The characters also lived with their three children: Nancy (played by Elayne Heilveil in the original miniseries, then Meredith Baxter Birney for the rest of the show's run), Willie (Gary Frank), and Letitia, nicknamed "Buddy" (Kristy McNichol). In one of the show's earlier episodes, it's disclosed the Lawrences had another son, Timothy, who had passed away five years ago due to an accident.

The character of Kate is presented as the practical and rational voice of the show. As the matriarch of the family, she's a full-time homemaker and resent those who exclaim that she could have gone further in life. However, she does eventually question and express discontent with the monotony in her life and even returns to college and becomes a teacher towards the end of the show.

Kristy McNichol (1978), (Ron Galella, Ltd/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images)

Kate's husband, Doug, is an independent lawyer aspiring to be a judge, but above all is a family man. Not only does Doug listen to his wife Kate, but he also makes time for their child buddy.

Doug and Kate's son, Willy, is portrayed in the show as an aspiring writer. With his parent's permission, Willy takes a year off of high school to write a screenplay, but to his father's dismay, he ends up dropping out entirely. After working many uninspiring jobs, Willy desires to leave his home in Pasadena, California, entirely. 

Younger daughter Buddy portrays a tomboyish girl who is coming of age and experimenting with her femininity. Well-liked by her classmates, Buddy's character is one who is compassionate and loyal to her friends. 

When faced with a dilemma, Buddy seeks out her mother's help, and she has a relatively close relationship with her brother, who affectionally dubs her "Peaches." 

The eldest daughter in the show, Nancy Lawrence Maitland, catches her husband in bed with another woman and enrolls in law school after their divorce. As she moves back home in the first episode, her dilemma becomes the catalyst for other events in the show. 

Critics said the show was a rare quality offering, and it was generally well-received by audiences. Although the show elevated the status of all the actors involved, McNichol was particularly affected by the fame she earned from the show. 

McNichol was even nominated for the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series three years in a row and took home the win in 1977 and 1979.

Kristy McNichol (circa 1980) (Archive Photos/Getty Images)

McNichol continued to act on television and appeared in the TV special "The Carpenters at Christmas" in 1977, where she performed several musical numbers with the Carpenters. The following year, she and her brother, Jimmy McNichol, ventured into the music industry together and recorded their RCA Records album called "Kristy and Jimmy McNichol." In 1978, McNichol once again performed at a Christmas special held by the Carpenters, but this time alongside her brother.

McNichol had also progressed to star in films alongside her work on television. In 1980, she landed the leading role in "Little Darlings," a coming-of-age film in which her performance was highly acclaimed. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Only When I Laugh" in 1982. McNichol continued to be successful as an actress, although the industry had begun to wear on her a bit. In 1988, she began playing the role of Barbara Weston on "Empty Nest," a spin-off show of "The Golden Girls." However, she left the show in 1992 after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She later returned for the final episode in 1995, marking her last on-screen performance.

Why She Retired From Acting

McNichol then shifted her career to voicing characters in animated series such as "Extreme Ghostbusters" and "Invasion America," but didn't stay in the industry for much longer. Biography reported that McNichol retired from acting in the late 1990s, with her ongoing battle with bipolar disorder being one of the reasons. According to Yahoo!, Kristy was not the only one in her family who struggled with bipolar disorder; her brother, Jimmy, did as well. 

Kristy McNichol (1980), (Ron Galella, Ltd/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images)

Her brother Jimmy told Yahoo!:

"I even got a little shadow of it from what I've been told, but I don't have all the symptoms."

In 1989, McNichol opened up to People about the breakdown she had during her career. She said that the pressures of child stardom created a delayed reaction for her later in life. She told writer Scot Haller:

"From the time I was very young, I was a professional, making money and assuming responsibilities. I didn't live the life of a child. I was living the life of a 30-year-old."

Eventually, the actress was under doctor's care and 24-hour surveillance by friends and family. Her brother Jimmy even moved in with her. McNichol commented on the strange feeling it gave her:

"It was such a weird place to be. It was almost like a dream. It wasn't real. It was just so strange, so scary. It's the scariest thing you ever want to deal with." 

McNichol said that being a child star really reversed the roles within her family dynamic:

"I say to my mother all the time, 'You're the child,' " says Kristy. "And she says, 'Yeah, you're the mother.' I've been that way with her since I was 11. I'd say, 'Who are you going out with tonight? What time do you think you're coming home?' I have always been really responsible, and my mom has been more flighty." The actress realized after the fact that she was the one who always wanted a car "to drive away from the chaos at home."

The Pressure Of Being A Child Star

Kristy McNichol (1987), (Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

While working on "Family," Kristy said she embodied this grown-up in a child's body persona. She said:

"I was like a miniature adult. I'd go off to work every day with a little briefcase. I really think I grew up backwards. There is the way most kids do it, and then there is the way Kris did it."

McNichols went on:

"I didn't know the word no, because I wanted to please everybody all the time; every kid does. My mother always wanted to be an actress. She was an extra in movies and stuff. I have a feeling this is the classic story: The mother wants to be an actress, and the child ends up doing it. But it was never a jealousy thing between us. It was like -- well, I was making my mom happy."

However, pleasing her mother turned out to be dissatisfying: 

"And then I found out later that that wasn't making me happy. Every time I had a break, I'd be told, 'Here's a script.' Before I could even say yes or no, I'd be on my way to a location, and then I'd come back and jump right into "Family" again. I mean, I had no life."

McNichol's co-star, Sada Thompson, also remarked on the surprising demeanor of the child star:

"We used to talk about how amazing it was that Kristy didn't appear to feel any of the pressures of growing up as a successful child actress. The cost is enormous, you know, but Kristy didn't seem to be paying it."

However, McNichol started to notice the effects before her Hollywood breakdown. She said her demeanor started to shift shortly before she turned 18 years old:

"It was like I wanted to live my childhood finally. I was wanting to be a kid at 18 instead of being a young woman."

Kristy McNichol (2016), (Bobby Bank/WireImage/Getty Images)

She felt herself falling apart as she realized the lack of agency she had in her childhood career:

"When you come to the fact that you could have controlled the whole thing if only you had known, it can be really hard to accept — and can make you really angry. It all came to a head. All the rejection, all the ups and downs of my career -- not having a childhood, coming from a broken home, not going to school, not going to the prom, all these people telling me to do this and do that and not having any say-so. People think I must have been on drugs or something. But when you're young, all of that is enough to make you crack."

Although her breakdown affected her career, McNichol did successfully work after the fact but eventually left acting altogether on her own account. 

People also reported that the former actress retired from her career to focus on her health. McNichol and her publicist later made the retired actress' decision public in 2001.

In January 2012, People reported that McNichol had decided to make a statement about her sexuality and come out to try to help kids who were being bullied. Despite not being in the public eye for many years, McNichol felt it was important to use her platform for the betterment of others. 

At the time, the retired actress and her partner, Martie Allen, were both 49 years old and had been living together for the past 20 years. McNicol's publicist, Jeff Ballardtold People, "She is very sad about kids being bullied. She hopes that coming out can help kids who need support. She would like to help others who feel different."

Even though she was a rising star back in the 1970s, McNichol has enjoyed living her life away from the spotlight. "She is very happy and healthy," Ballard said. "And she enjoys living a very private life." Even though she had stepped away from the spotlight all those years ago, McNichol hadn't forgotten about her love for acting and the talent she had in the field. Shortly after her retirement, she went on to teach acting at a private school in Los Angeles and devoted much of her time to charity work.

Kristy McNichol (2019), (Bobby Bank/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

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