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Kristy McNichol AKA Buddy from ‘Family’ was Clinically Ill While Working on ‘Empty Nest’

Jul 21, 2021
12:09 P.M.
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Kristy McNichol portrayed the character of Buddy Lawrence on-screen during the 1970s and 1980s and impressed everyone with her memorable performance. However, after the peak of her career, she decided to retire from acting. 


Born in Los Angeles, California, Kristy McNichol was no stranger to Hollywood life even at such a young age. She became a child star, becoming one of America's biggest TV stars about four decades ago. 

As she enjoyed being in front of the camera ever since she was a little girl, acting was second nature to her. In fact, she won two Emmys for her role on the hit ABC drama "Family," before winning other accolades.

Kristy McNichol for "Family" Season 3 on September 13, 1977 (left), Kristy McNichol at the Annual Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Awards on December 1, 1987 in New York (right) | Photo: Getty Images



“Family” and her portrayal of Buddy certainly put the actress on the map. However, the 59-year-old actress kickstarted her career with her brother Jimmy on TV commercials.

Before “Family,” McNichol made guest appearances on shows like “Starsky & Hutch" and "The Bionic Woman.” She was also a regular on the sitcom “Apple’s Way” from 1974 to 1975.

Kristy McNichol attends 2016 Chiller Theatre Expo Day 1 at Parsippany Hilton in Parsippany, New Jersey | Photo: Getty Images



Following her on-screen portrayal of Letitia “Buddy” Lawrence on “Family,” McNichol guest-starred in several projects and was a regular on “Empty Nest.” Speaking to The Miami News, she enthused about "Family," saying:

“It’s so real. There’s no other show like it... "Apple’s Way" was too corny. No one believed any of it...  Any kid could tell in a second the show had nothing to do with reality.”

Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal who starred in "Little Darlings" together reunite at Day 1 of the Chiller Theatre Expo at Sheraton Parsippany Hotel on October 24, 2014 in Parsippany, New Jersey. | Photo: Getty Images



McNichol starred in 21 movies on the big screen, including "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (1981), "Dream Lover" (1986), and the TV trilogy, "Children of the Bride" (1990), "Baby of the Bride" (1991), and "Mother of the Bride" (1993).

She won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal as Letitia “Buddy” Lawrence on “Family,” and once gushed about her role to The Daily Journal of Indiana:

“Playing Buddy is easy for me because she’s a lot like me. I’ve turned Buddy into me. I like Donny Osmond, so I asked the producers if I could put a poster of him on Buddy’s bedroom wall.”


Kristy McNichol attends Day 1 of the 2010 Chiller Theatre Expo at Hilton in Parsippany, New Jersey | Photo: Getty Images


McNichol followed her success in showbusiness with a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Polly in the movie “Only When I Laugh” and had her long run in the ABC sitcom “Empty Nest.”


In her more than two decades of acting, McNichol was featured in several shows like “Sara,” “Little Darling,” and “The Forgotten One.” She didn’t have any acting credits from 1998 to 2012.

Actress Kristy McNichol holding her Emmy Award in the press room at The 31st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 9, 1979 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, California | Photo: Getty Images



She returned for the “Empty Nest” series finale in 1995 but actually left the show midway through its run. At the time, she once told the Los Angeles Times: “I had to choose between continuing the show and not being well."

Ultimately, McNichol admitted it was the hardest decision she's ever had to make. At the time, she was suffering from a chemical imbalance, which was akin to manic-depressive disorder. Years later, she revealed she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.



“Empty Nest” went off the air in 1995, and McNichol officially stepped away from showbusiness a few years later. She then opened about the decision that urged her to quit the industry, saying “I was on the big stage between ages 8 and 30.” She added:

“I left showbusiness for a variety of reasons, but a big one was my interest in learning what else there is in life.”

Kristy McNichol and Jimmy McNichol attend Day 1 of the Chiller Theatre Expo at Sheraton Parsippany Hotel on October 24, 2014 in Parsippany, New Jersey | Photo: Getty Images



In 2001, the lovable actress was forced to end her Hollywood career due to personal issues which began affecting her performance. Since retiring, she had stayed away from the spotlight, with her last appearance dating back to 1998 when she starred on "Invasion America" as Sergeant Angela "Angie" Romar.

Reportedly, the first setback in McNichol's career came in 1988 when she suffered from severe clinical depression. As she battled the disease, that was the time she was on "Empty Nest."



While working on the show, her behavior turned quite erratic, and she became hard to work with. She attributed her changed behavior to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This also forced her to give up acting forever.

After her retirement, she shared that after 24 years in the industry, she wanted to play her biggest part yet: being herself. Admittedly, she said that it was the best thing she had ever done in her life.

Kristy McNichol in the made for TV movie: "Baby of the Bride" in July of 1991. | Photo: Getty Images



In 2012, McNichol decided to make a statement about her sexuality. The now-59-year-old actress re-entered the public spotlight to reveal her two-decade relationship with Martie Allen, 62.

That same year, her publicist Jeff Ballard also told People magazine that the actress was upset about young people being bullied. “She hopes that coming out can help kids who need support. She would like to help others who feel different,” he said

Actress Kristy McNichol attending 43rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 24, 1986 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: Getty Images

Like many retired Hollywood stars, McNichol has been living her best life. She enjoys tennis, yoga, and the company of her dachshunds. Of course, she is also enjoying her private life with her longtime partner.