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Mary Elizabeth McDonough's Life after 'The Waltons' as Last Episode Aired 40 Years Ago

Edduin Carvajal
Jun 19, 2021
09:20 A.M.

“The Waltons” actress Mary Elizabeth McDonough tried to change her image after the show, but she dealt with many health issues after getting breast implants.


Born in May 1961, McDonough’s steady rise in the entertainment industry began in 1963 with a brief appearance in “Hospital General.”

Her big break came a decade later, in 1972, in “The Waltons.” For nine years, McDonough portrayed Erin, one of the children growing up in the fictitious Walton’s Mountain.

Mary Elizabeth McDonough as Erin in "The Waltons" | Photo: YouTube/DoYouRemember

Mary Elizabeth McDonough as Erin in "The Waltons" | Photo: YouTube/DoYouRemember


While being an actress was nothing short of a dream, McDonough was under a lot of pressure for portraying Erin. She confessed producers once hinted that she was too “fat” to play the popular boy-crazed teen. She explained:

“Erin was supposed to be the pretty one, so there was a lot of pressure for me to look a certain way and weigh a certain amount.”


As a result, she developed some body image issues and tried to follow radical diets. For a while, she even starved herself to “fit in and be perfect,” but she fortunately realized that path doesn’t lead to perfection.

Mary McDonough as Erin in "The Waltons" circa 1977 | Photo: Getty Images

Mary McDonough as Erin in "The Waltons" circa 1977 | Photo: Getty Images

McDonough pointed out that all she wanted was to be a successful actress, but in the “Dallas” era she lived in, actresses had stereotypical “big hair [and] big boobs.”

At 24, Mary Elizabeth McDonough got breast implants, and doctors told her they were safe and would last a lifetime. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst decisions of her life, and the rash that broke out on her back was only the first and least dangerous sign.


The “New Adventures of Old Christine” actress admitted her implants ruptured and disintegrated in her chest. For ten years, she was very sick, and nobody knew what the problem was.

Apart from dealing with chronic muscle pain, McDonough began losing hair, was weak, and felt like she was constantly getting the flu. In 1994, she got the implants removed as she believed they were contributing to her frail health.

Her second book, “The House on Honeysuckle Lane,” was adapted into a Hallmark movie.



Mary Elizabeth McDonough began feeling better after the surgery, but only two years later, when she was 35, she was diagnosed with lupus. The actress believes the implants caused the autoimmune disease. She said:

“I was […] healthy. I got implants, I got sick. I had them for ten years. I got them out, and I started to get better, and I am in remission from lupus, so you do the math.”

McDonough eventually was part of a class-action suit against the implant makers, Dow Silicones Corporation, and got some money out of it. Still, she believes it is not enough compared to what she went (and is still going) through.



Unlike many child actors, McDonough didn’t disappear from Hollywood when “The Waltons” ended in 1981 as she kept landing parts in “Impure Thoughts,” “ER,” and “The West Wing.”

If keeping herself active in Hollywood for so many years wasn’t hard enough, McDonough is also a novelist. Her second book, “The House on Honeysuckle Lane,” was adapted into a Hallmark movie in 2018.

The actress confessed she’d been a writer her entire life but only became a published author with her 2011 memoir, “Lessons From the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton.”


“One Year,” her first novel, is a sort of prequel to “House on Honeysuckle Lane” as both stories take place in the same town and same street, but with different families.

Mary Elizabeth McDonough, who once said she doesn’t watch “The Waltons” today, is currently married to Don, her second husband. The couple has three grown-up daughters, so she has plenty of time to develop her career as an author.

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