Brach | Wikimedia Commons
Source: Brach | Wikimedia Commons

'Family Affair's' Johnny Whitaker's Family Threatened to 'Divorce' Him after He Became Penniless

Oyin Balogun
Jan 25, 2022
01:40 P.M.
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Johnny Whitaker from "Family Affairs" had the best support from his real-life family until he gave in to his demons, leaving him penniless. Thankfully, the actor could restore himself, following the fear of losing his most valuable asset—family. Here is everything about the former iconic child star.


Johnny Whitaker wowed the audience with his creative acting skills. Despite playing an invisible role in "Gunsmoke," many young children referenced him as their idol because of his dedication to work, the star actor often brought his character to life. 

It was impossible to miss the boy with one of the most distinct freckled faces in the game. He conveniently enjoyed the limelight and was the person many sitcom producers wanted to work with. 

Actor Johnny Whitaker on "Family Affair" [left] Actor Johnny Whitaker and co-star on "Family Affair" | Photo: Brach, Wikimedia Commons


The "Gunsmoke" actor who became a staple following his years on "Family Affairs," "General Hospital," "Tom Sawyer," "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," was blessed with the support of his large family.

But somehow, the magnitude of love and support did not have him from the child star jinx. He faced challenges like being broke and nearly homeless after succumbing to drug addiction. If his family did not threaten to divorce him, Whitaker might have never taken control of his life.

In the end, the former child star turned drug addict became sober and continues to proudly share his story to younger generations to prevent them from toeing such a path; as he was lucky, somebody else may never be.


Johnny Whitaker attends the Grand Reopening Of The Hollywood Museum And Check Presentation To The Michael J. Fox Foundation at The Hollywood Museum on August 04, 2021 | Photo: Getty Images


While Whitaker played a member of a small family on "Family Affairs," in reality, he was from a large and healthy family. Irrespective of the number of relatives, they showed genuine affection for one another, influencing his admiration for family.


The actor, who was accustomed to a normal childhood despite his fame, became familiar with Hollywood at age two, and thankfully, his family was always around to guide him. The toddler ranked number eight on the Whitakers' siblings list and was often followed to film locations.

Even though he made money, his mother never stopped providing the necessary things like $1 pocket money for lunch while on set. Whitaker confessed that sometimes, he collected double because his mother would forget that she had given him a dollar earlier.

Johnny Whitaker attends the 4th annual Roger Neal Oscar Viewing Dinner Icon Awards and after party at Hollywood Palladium on February 24, 2019 | Photo: Getty Images


This trick never got in the way of their mother and son bond. In fact, the pair remained close, and in 2019, the former child star shared a rare post featuring his aged smiling mother, enjoying the company of her sweet family. The caption read:

"Beautiful to be with my Mama Mary Gardy for Christmas. My brother, sister & inlaws got to sing for her in her new home."

Johnny Whitaker attends The Hollywood Show held at The Westin Hotel LAX on July 28, 2018 | Photo: Getty Images


Growing up in a close-knit family made him conscious of having something similar as an adult. The "Gunsmoke" alum said:

"When I get married and have a family, I am going to listen to my kids. I'll have eight or more. I like kids, especially young ones."

Whitaker was confident in his abilities and told reporters about his plans as a teenager. The 14-year-old, who had experienced more than ten years on set, claimed that he would become a director, as he had gathered knowledge working with some remarkable ones.

Johnny Whitaker during Family TV Awards at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. | Photo: Getty Images



With his family's influence, the sky was barely the limit for the talented child star actor. However, his fame dwindled when the "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" ended.

This coincided with his transition to adulthood, and Whitaker flew away to Portugal on a Mormon mission before returning to the US to school. He studied at Brigham Young University.

During his time in college, the "Gunsmoke" star fell in love with Symbria Wright, whom he married. Sadly their union hit the rocks four years later, and it did not take long before his ex-wife married his close pal.


Johnny Whitaker during "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" Premiere at Arclight Theater in Hollywood, California, United States. | Photo: Getty Images

This punctured his heart, but the man carried on with life, focusing on his future. Whitaker moved to California to work as a computer repairer in CBS and later joined his older sibling, Dora, at her theatrical company.



"Family Affair" reign was successful; the show ranked Neilsen ratings' top five for three years and projected a lot of entertainers, including Whitaker. However, some of its incredible stars who brought smiles to the faces of its audience had an unhappy ending, while others could rewrite their story.

Actress Anissa Jones and actor Brian Keith died of drug overdose and suicide, respectively. Jones, 18, lost her life five years after the sitcom ended. While Keith lived till 75, he battled cancer and later took his own life in 1997.


Whitaker found it difficult to cope with the losses; he was also distraught over his failed marriage. Sadly, the actor sought an alternative to soothe his pain, leading him to become a drug addict.

In an interview about his past, the former child star gave an honest answer about his struggles. According to him:

"I decided to go to the dark side. I made a conscious decision that being a goody-two-shoes had gotten me nowhere. I lost two apartments and three jobs."


The drug and alcohol addiction cost the actor his childhood earnings, and it nearly estranged him from his family. As he became roughly homeless and destitute, the Whitaker clan firmly stated:

"Either get off drugs or we are divorcing you as a family."

These words must have hit hard, and it automated the rest button in his life. He checked into rehab, obsessively attended counsels and classes, and later earned a drug counseling certificate that would help influence other people's choices.


Ever since he found redemption, the "Family Affairs" actor has been critical about lending his voice and using his story as a tool to help young minds. In 2017, in Los Angeles, a tweet showed that he teamed up with like minds like "Alcohol Justice," "LADAPA," and "CAPA" to "kill the Weiner 4:00 AM Bar Bill." 


Although Whitaker predicted that he would be a director and have a large family, the man has achieved his dreams in a different way. He is a director, editor, and producer of various productions, including documentaries.


The advocate is also a counselor who tries to chart new courses for people, redirecting their thoughts. As far as his work is concerned, he is overjoyed with the effects on other generations and has confirmed that he is proud of the outcome. He said:

"I look at this as my destiny," Whitaker said of his current efforts to help addicts. I am not ashamed of my celebrity. I have not always made the right choices in my life, but everything happens for a reason."

The former child star actor who has aged gracefully is a doting father to three kids, a daughter, and two sons. Whitaker loves to spend time with his babies and shows off their photos online—having learned from the best.