The Waltons had a couple of major departures from the cast during its run including John-Boy actor Richard Thomas and Olivia actress Michael Learned, so who left first?
Richard Thomas wound up leaving the show first. He said goodbye to the show after five seasons. The show even tried to replace him with another actor, but it was a big challenge. John-Boy actor Richard Thomas once talked about the show’s decision to replace him once he left.
“It was a strange thing to do,” Thomas said in a Studio 10 interview. “Because it’s very hard for people to change their idea of who a character is, what he looks like, what he or she sounds like. And, I don’t know that it was a very successful shift.”
Robert Wightman wound up taking over the role, but fans were too used to seeing Richard Thomas in the role and never warmed to the idea. Some say that replacing John-Boy would up being the slow death of the show.
“I felt for Bobby (Robert Wightman) because he’s such a good actor and such a good guy,” he continued. “I thought, ‘Oh, man is that a job I would have wanted to take? But, you know, it took guts and he did it.”
‘The Waltons’ Actress Judy Norton Was 𝕋𝕙𝕣𝕚𝕝𝕝𝕖𝕕 to See Her Former Co-Star Return
It was hard for the cast when Richard Thomas left the show, so Mary-Ellen actress Judy Norton was one of the many people who were 𝕋𝕙𝕣𝕚𝕝𝕝𝕖𝕕 when Thomas came back for a two part episode called ‘The Return’
“John Boy comes back and for the cast, it was rather like a real reunion because Richard had left at the end of season five,” Norton described in a recent video. “And, I missed him. I think we all did. So when he returns, and we each walk up and we see him. And then he’s telling us to be quiet because he wants to surprise Mama. That felt like real life, when a relative comes back and you haven’t seen them in some time. So, it was pretty special.”
Norton now has a video series on the show, where she dissects different episodes and gives fans new behind the scenes secrets. Every time its time to talk about Richard Thomas’s work as John-Boy, there’s a clear fondness there. She’s told many stories about their times together on set.
So of course, it was awkward when someone came in to play John Boy who wasn’t Richard Thomas, and it’s why that part of the series isn’t typically acknowledged.
Thankfully, even though Richard Thomas left the show, there was no bad blood there. He came back multiple times for guest appearances and wound up in multiple TV Movies.