Sitcom Channel | Getty Images
Source: Sitcom Channel | Getty Images

Inside Private Lesbian Life of Kristy McNichol Who Lived through ‘Years of Hell’ & Was ‘A Total Mess’

Junie Sihlangu
Mar 28, 2022
11:40 A.M.
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Kristy McNichol might have seemed to have a decent life, but the truth was she was struggling in the background. She ended up leaving the industry and managed to find love with a woman. 


Kristy McNichol was well-known for a five-season portrayal of Letitia "Buddy" Lawrence on the 1976 drama series "Family." The actress found fame and became a star when she was a teenager.

However, even though she was a celebrity, Kristy preferred keeping most of her personal life under wraps. The "Little Darlings" actress's fans would wonder if she'd started a family after becoming a star. 

Kristy McNichol on the set of "Family," circa 1977, and her on an episode of "Empty Nest." | Source: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images & YouTube/The Sitcom Channel


Some people might have envied Kristy's life and stardom, but little did they know that she had to face many challenges in her life. Part of those challenges was living in the closet for most of her life.

The following article explores the actress's personal life, love story, and life struggles. To start, we'll be delving into the star's childhood and what type of relationship she had with her mother.


Kristy, Thomas, and Jimmy McNichol with their mother Carollyne McNichol Lucas at The Television Critics Circle Awards on April 11, 1977, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images


Kristy, born in Los Angeles, California, on September 11, 1962, once revealed to People Magazine's 1989 cover story that she had an emotional breakdown. The star explained that it was caused, and a delayed reaction, from the high-pressured life she lived during the years of her childhood stardom.

The actress shared how she became a professional from a very young age and had to make money and take on responsibilities. She revealed something quite heartbreaking about her childhood, stating

“I didn’t live the life of a child. I was living the life of a 30-year-old.”

Kristy McNichol at the taping of "The Merv Griffin Show" on April 19, 1977, in Hollywood, California. | Source: Ron Galella, Ltd/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images


However, after the breakdown, she received medical attention from a doctor. Her family or friends made sure to be by her side all day long until she started making a slow but steady recovery.

Unlike most people of Kristy's generation, while they spent their time watching television, she spent hers in front of the camera. She was only three when her parents, Jim and Carollyne, divorced.

Kristy McNichol at the Hollywood premiere of "Saturday Night Fever" with her brothers Jimmy and Tommy, December 1977. | Source: Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Archive Photos/Getty Images


Carollyne pushed her children into careers in show-business. Two of her three children were led into the industry, with Kristy and her brother Jimmy, doing commercials while their mother worked as their business manager, but the family only functioned with roles being reversed, with the star saying:

“I say to my mother all the time, ‘You’re the child.’ And she says, ‘Yeah, you’re the mother.’"

Kristy McNichol posing in a black-and-white image, circa 1976. | Source: Archive Photos/Getty Images


The actress and mother had a relationship that wasn't ideal for a child. During her People interview, Kristy revealed how she'd been having a distorted relationship with her mother since a young age and also shared one of their conversations, stating:

"I’ve been that way with her since I was 11. I’d say, ‘Who are you going out with tonight? What time do you think you’re coming home?’ I have always been really responsible, and my mom more flighty.”

Kristy McNichol was photographed at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, in 1980. | Source: George Rose/Getty Image


Kristy was even the one who cleaned their house and became punctual, while the rest of her family got to be carefree. The star later realized she'd always wanted to have a vehicle so she could leave the chaos she experienced at home and carried her behavior onto "Family's" set, with her recalling:

“I was like a miniature adult. I’d go off to work every day with a little briefcase."


She felt she grew backward, with most children doing things a certain way while she was doing them in her own. Even her "Empty Nest" co-star Dinah Manoff recalled how much of an adult Kristy had been as a child, and the over-achieving child-star gave some insight into the type of person she was, sharing:

“I didn’t know the word no, because I wanted to please everybody all the time.”


However, more than other people, Kristy wanted to please Carollyne. She revealed how her mother had wanted to act, had some extra roles on some movies, but never got to fulfill her longing, adding:

"I have a feeling this is the classic story: The mother wants to be an actress, and the child ends up doing it."


Kristy McNichol at the first annual Rock and Roll Sports Classic on March 11, 1978, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images


In her People article, Kristy also shared how her troubles growing up never ended. She recalled an incident where a director once tried to seduce her when she was a teenager but invited her to his trailer for a lunchtime meeting.

That incident, which almost ended badly, left her questioning the industry she was in. Not being able to find satisfying answers, she started on a journey towards an emotional breakdown.

Kristy McNichol at the 13th Annual Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Awards on December 1, 1987, in New York City. | Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images


She had an infamous episode that had to do with her breakdown that almost ended her acting career. Recalling that moment, the then-26-year-old actress honestly confessed:

“I was a total mess."

Kristy McNichol smiling while posing for a photograph. | Source: Time Life Pictures/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


In 1982, she was set to film "Just the Way You Are" in the French Alps, but she didn't want to travel to Europe. The unresolved questions she had led Kristy to have self-doubts and depression, and she was close to falling apart. 

The actress informed her manager how she felt while traveling to the airport. She confessed that she didn't think she should shoot the movie, but people were dismissive about her feelings, with her recalling:

"No one could look at me as this person who was in trouble. It was like, ‘Please, listen to me,’ and no one ever did. I was so confused. I was so depressed. I was so full of anxiety. I was a wreck."


Kristy McNichol at her press room at the 31st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 9, 1979, in California. | Source: Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images

She struggled with filming for five weeks but was professional enough to deliver a sterling performance. When the camera was rolling, Kristy was able to find enough strength and energy to get through a scene, noting:


“When they said, ‘Cut,’ I became this sad little lost animal in the darkness.”

Kristy McNichol poses backstage during the 55th Academy Awards on April 11, 1983, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

However, as the shooting continued, the star realized she was completely out of control. She couldn't eat and spent the whole month in France with hardly enough sleep; but when she did, the dreams were strange, and she lost around 96 lbs and admitted:


"[I had] nonstop crying. Nonstop anxiety. I was always shaking like a leaf. Freaking out, crying, confused, I didn’t know what was going on."

Michael Ontkean and Kristy McNichol during the filming of "Just the Way You Are" in 1984, France. | Source: Jacques PRAYER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images


Eventually, Kristy couldn't cope anymore, and during a two-week production Christmas break, she went back to California. A friend took the actress to a psychiatrist who dealt with adolescents with emotional problems, and the doctor saw how angry she was, with Kristy stating:

“I had no idea I had that much pain inside my body. He told me, ‘This was bound to happen, so don’t feel so odd.’"

Edouard Molinaro, Kristy McNichol, and others during the filing of "Just the Way You Are" in France, in 1984. | Source: Jacques PRAYER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images


Kristy's doctor advised her not to continue her work on the film, and she refused to return to work but did so a year later. Rumors started going around that she had an addiction problem or was a manic depressive, which wasn't true, with the star admitting:

"I think it would be easier to kick that kind of habit than to go through the years of hell that I have.”


After her breakdown, she moved to her older brother Jimmy so she could get support. Kristy started intensive psychotherapy to deal with the subconscious anger and revealed this about that time:

“It was such a weird place to be. It was almost like a dream. It wasn’t real. It was just so strange, so scary. It’s the scariest thing you ever want to deal with.”

The Emmy award-winning star left "Empty Nest" midway and never had another screen role again. In 1995, Kristy confessed that it was a difficult decision, and Biography later revealed that she had been living with bipolar disorder.



Kristy McNichol at "Love Boat Cast Christening Of Regal Princess Cruise Ship on November 5, 2014, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. | Source: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

By 2001, the star officially announced her retirement from acting after 24 years in the industry. She explained in her statement that she was addressing it because people were wondering what she was doing, noting:


"My feeling was that it was time to play my biggest part — myself! I must say that it has been the best thing that ever happened to me."

Kristy McNichol at the Chiller Theatre Fall Expo on October 25, 2019, in Parsippany, New Jersey. | Source: Bobby Bank/Getty Images


By 2012, Kristy, then-49, had been out of the limelight for 20 years and decided to come out as a lesbian. She explained that she did it because she wanted to help children who were being bullied for who they were. 

The former actress [Kristy McNichols], who'd had a guest role on the show, explained that she was at the event to see what else was there on offer...

Kristy McNichol at the Chiller Theatre Expo on October 24, 2014, in Parsippany, New Jersey. | Source: Bobby Bank/WireImage/Getty Images


Jeff Ballard, her publicist, informed People at the time that the former actress was "very sad about kids being bullied." Ballard further explained his client's stance, saying:

“She hopes that coming out can help kids who need support. She would like to help others who feel different.”

People magazine also included an image of Kristy with her partner. In the photo, the pair smiled as they looked straight at the camera at what seemed to be a dinner outing with other people. 


Kristy McNichol at Chiller Theatre Expo on October 28, 2016, in Parsippany, New Jersey. | Source: Bobby Bank/WireImage/Getty Images


The publication also shared how Kristy now spent her time raising miniature dachshunds, playing tennis, doing yoga, and traveling. Ballard described her as "very happy and healthy" and shared that she enjoyed "living a very private life."

In 2014, People magazine interviewed Kristy at Fort Lauderdale's "Love Boat" reunion. The former actress, who'd had a guest role on the show, explained that she was at the event to see what else was there on offer and said:

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


In 2022, Kristy had been with Martie Allen in a lesbian relationship for 20 years, and they didn't have any children together. However, she was a loving aunt to Jimmy's three children, and speaking to People magazine in 2014, she confessed:

“This phase of my life is so good. My home life is happy and serene. I love singing. I also enjoy traveling and seeing the world.”

She and Allen have since opted to keep their relationship private and out of the spotlight. However, it doesn't seem like Kristy will ever find her way back into a career in acting.