The show Family Affair might not be the most well-remembered TV series of the ’60s, but it was very popular in its day. The show was about a wealthy bachelor, who had to take in his teenage niece and six-year-old twin niece and nephew and raise them along with his butler. But, Family Affair was a comedy about an unconventional family, sadly, the behind-the-scenes story of the show is full of tragedy. One star who made it past his own dark times is Johnny Whitaker, who played Jody, one of the twins.
Whitaker was six years old when he joined Family Affair, and he spent five years on the program until it concluded in 1966. Whitaker has done some acting in the years since but also worked in other areas, including addiction counseling. He’s also opened up about his own struggles with addiction and the tragedies faced by his co-stars. read on to find out more.
Whitaker had been acting onscreen even before he starred on Family Affair. In fact, he got the role because he had appeared in a movie with Brian Keith, who would play his uncle on the TV show. “I did The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. I met Brian Keith. He said I want you to be in the new show that I’m doing,” Whitaker explained to Studio 10 in 2018.
Whitaker’s TV appearances as a child star included Bewitched, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. He was the first actor to play Scotty Baldwin on General Hospital and also starred in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. As for movies, he starred in a couple of Disney films and a musical version of Tom Sawyer.
Whitaker’s acting career slowed in the ’70s, around the time he decided to go on a mission trip to Portugal as part of his Mormon upbringing. He also attended college. “I went to Brigham Young University for directing and producing,” he told Fox News in 2016, “and unfortunately Utah, which I thought would open their arms to me as being a brother, did not do so with my 17 years of experience and didn’t accept me so I went back to California.”
In the ’80s, Whitaker’s wife left him, and he began going down a dark path with drug and alcohol addiction. “With that, I lost my faith in God and man and the world,” he told Fox News. He said that he lost his life to “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” which “lasted about seven, eight years.” Whitaker continued, “And then my family said, ‘You have a choice between getting clean and sober or getting excommunicated from the family.'”
Whitaker became sober and has devoted himself to helping others as a Certified Addiction Counselor and Advocate, according to his website. He started a non-profit organization called Paso por Paso and has also been an advocate for prison reform. “I believe we need to talk at other successful drug deterrent programs, other than throwing people in jail for a mental health problem,” he said in his Fox News interview.
Whitaker’s work as an addiction counselor hits close to home in more than one way: Anissa Jones, who played Jody’s twin Buffy on Family Affair, died of a drug overdose at age 18.
Whitaker has appeared in a few acting roles in recent years, however. He was in episodes of the 2016 reboot of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and in the movies A Husband for Christmas and Prepper’s Grove. He also directed a documentary about drug policy in Portugal, and his website notes the he is writing his memoir. Over the years, he’s also worked in talent management.
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With Whitaker being such a prolific child actor, he has many fans who grew up watching him on TV. “Well, if you’re over 45, you know who I am,” he told From the Mixed Up Files in 2020. “Or if your mom and dad were smart enough to tell you what real television is.” He also said of TV fan conventions, “I don’t do them as often as I used to, but when I can, I do. I have a great time, and it’s fun to see fans…”