Kristy McNichol Played Buddy on "Family." See Her Now at 59.
The former child actor also starred in Little Darlings.
Kristy McNichol was a major young star in the '70s and '80s, but she broke out first with the TV drama Family, playing youngest daughter, Letitia Lawrence, nicknamed Buddy. Premiering in 1976, the series starred James Broderick and Sada Thompson as a suburban California couple with three children, and ran for five seasons. Family portrayed what American middle-class life was like at the time, including tackling tough topics like sexuality and death. McNichol was just 14 when the show began but won two Emmy awards for her work on the show.
While her star continued to rise for several years after Family went off the air, McNichol also dealt with some personal struggles and has largely kept out of the spotlight for the last 25 years. Read on to find out why she left her career and what she's doing today.
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She struggled with child stardom.
After her role in Family, McNichol's career exploded. She played her first leading movie role in the beloved coming-of-age film Little Darlings in 1980 and was nominated for a Golden Globe for the comedy Only When I Laugh. She also kept acting on TV too, playing recurring roles on The Love Boat, Golden Girls, and Empty Nest.
But her fame also came with a downside. Filming was stalled for the 1984 movie Just the Way You Are because McNichol, the leading lady, was experiencing mental health issues. She told People in 1989 that she rarely slept, had strange dreams, and lost a dangerous amount of weight while she was in France working on the project. With a therapist, McNichol identified the pressure of being a child star as one of the causes of her breakdown.
"From the time I was very young, I was a professional, making money and assuming responsibilities," she told the magazine. "I didn't live the life of a child. I was living the life of a 30-year-old."
She retired from acting in the late '90s.
While McNichols continued working as an actor for several years after that highly publicized incident, lending her voice to the animated series Invasion America in 1998 would be her last role. It was then that she decided to retire from the industry in what she told People in 2014 was a very positive decision for her—though she also said she'd "never say never" to acting in the future.
"I was on the big stage between ages eight and 30," she told the outlet, via ABC News. "I left show business for a variety of reasons, but a big one was my interest in learning what else there is in life."
Fortunately, it sounds like life for McNichol has only gotten better.
"My home life is happy and serene. I love singing. I also enjoy traveling and seeing the world," she said. "One of my favorite stops is Hawaii. I like everything about it and may eventually move there part-time."
She came out publicly in 2012.
McNichol came out as gay to her fans in 2012 via a statement that her publicist, Jeff Ballard, shared with People. He explained that chose to do so, even in retirement, for a very important reason.
"[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," Ballard said of his client, adding, "She is very happy and healthy and she enjoys living a private life."
At the time, McNichol also shared that she'd been living with her partner, Martie Allen, for 20 years, and enjoyed playing tennis, doing yoga, and spending time with her mini dachshunds.
She has said that she felt like an adult on the Family set.
In her 1989 interview, McNichol told People that she took her role as Buddy very seriously, even at a young age.
"I was like a miniature adult," she said. "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."
But ultimately, while her maturity helped her professionally, she discovered that living in the spotlight wasn't good for her mental or physical health.
"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," she said. "People think I must have been on drugs or something. But when you're young, all of that is enough to make you crack."
Her brother was also a famous kid.
McNichol has always been close with her brother Jimmy McNichol, who was also a child actor. (You might remember from Blinded by the Light or Night Warning.) In 1978, the siblings released an album together, and Jimmy even moved in with his sister to provide support when she was struggling with her mental health.
Today, the siblings maintain a shared Facebook page. Much of it is made up of throwback photos, but every so often, they do share recent photos of themselves and what they're up to.
Kristy also engages with fans by attending conventions where she chats about her work and signs autographs.
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