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September 18, 2021

‘Bewitched’s Dick York Cleaned Apartments & Went on Welfare before He Passed from Incurable Disease 3 Decades Ago

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Dick York made a fortune with “Bewitched,” but before dying from an incurable disease, he had to clean apartments and couldn’t even leave his home for months.

Born in September 1928, Dick York grew up in a hard-working family. His mother, Betty, was a seamstress, while his father, Bernard, worked as a salesman.

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DICK YORK’S EARLY CAREER

After moving from Indiana to Chicago, a nun at St. Mary of the Lake grammar school noticed his voice was exceptional, so when he was only nine years old, he joined the Jack and Jill Players. 

He debuted in the play “Water Babies” and studied drama at the De Paul Academy and De Paul University. At the time, though, he had already landed minor roles in radio.

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In 1944, York gained national notoriety by working in the TV series “That Brewster Boy.” His career improved after joining the cast of “The Jack Armstrong Show” and becoming “Junior Junction's” emcee.

Although his career skyrocketed in 1964 after being cast as Darrin Stephens in “Bewitched” opposite Elizabeth Montgomery and Agnes Moorehead, the project that really changed his life was “They Came to Cordura,” a western released in 1960.

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Due to an accident filming one of the scenes, he ended up lifting over 180 pounds on his own, which tore the muscles along the right side of his back.

The disabling injury was permanent, but he was not ready to stop working. To ease the pain, he would take painkillers, but he eventually became addicted to them. 

York was diagnosed with emphysema, a lung condition that causes shortness of breath.

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YORK’S ADDICTION AND DOWNFALL

His pill addiction was a problem since the first day of filming “Bewitched” as director William Asher found him passed out in his car when they were supposed to be shooting. The director considered firing him right away but gave him another chance instead.

Asher pointed out that he wasn’t sure whether York’s substance issues started due to his back injury or he was actually dealing with the “disease of drug addiction,” and his sore back was just a good excuse.

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Things got more complicated during "Bewitched" Season 5 when York had a seizure on the set, and Montgomery couldn’t take it anymore. She requested to find a replacement for York, and Dick Sargent stepped in. 

After that, York struggled to return to the entertainment industry and eventually decided to walk away from it. If that wasn’t bad enough, York was diagnosed with emphysema, a lung condition that causes shortness of breath. 

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YORK’S FINAL YEARS

After his Hollywood career ended, he spent his savings on buying an apartment building in West Covina and had planned to live off rental income. 

Unfortunately, when his tenants failed to pay the rent, he could not evict them thinking of his own youth. Eventually, York himself ran out of money and couldn’t afford the mortgage, so the bank foreclosed the entire property.

The only way the actor could hold onto his apartment was by cleaning other units. He went from earning six figures to getting his first welfare check in 1976.

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By 1989, he had already overcome his painkillers addiction but was dying of emphysema and living with his wife, Joan, on a $650-a-month Screen Actors Guild pension in a bungalow in Michigan.

At the time, he confessed he had not left his home for months and was tethered to a 25-foot oxygen lifeline. On February 20, 1992, York sadly passed away at 63 years of age. 

The late actor devoted his final days helping other homeless people in Chicago by helping collect 300 sleeping bags, 5,000 cans of grapefruit juice, and 12,000 surplus jackets. Rest in peace, legend.

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