• May 26, 2024

For Richard Thomas, being John-Boy was a double-edged sword

For many people, playing an iconic character is a dream come true. You’re beloved by viewers and recognized on the street, and you’ll probably never have to pay for your own drink for the rest of your life. Of course, it’s easy to only picture the perks of a role of a lifetime when you’re not living the reality of it day in and day out.

Richard Thomas had to take the good with the bad when he became destined to forever be known first and foremost as John-Boy on The Waltons. He recognized fairly early on that the character was nearly inescapable, and in an interview with the Knight-Ridder News Service he admitted, “There’s no way you can do that,” speaking of shedding his John-Boy image. He continued, “It’s a fool’s errand. There’s no way you could even pretend.” However, Thomas was also quick to acknowledge his gratitude for the role in the first place. He stated, “It was a show I adored… It’s great when you play a heavy and people say, ‘I didn’t know he could do that.’ Well, that’s the fun of it. But you also want to play parts where people come in and say, ‘That’s HIM.'”

Still, playing the same character over and over can get repetitive, so when an opportunity came to depart the cast of The Waltons, he took it. His explanation for his departure to The Capital Times was fairly simple. He said, “I just got tired of doing the show. I felt it was time to move on.” But not everyone was ready to leave John-Boy Walton behind, and we’re not talking about the viewers.

According to Thomas, it actually took more convincing to make those casting him believe that he wasn’t like his Walton character. He confessed, “It’s not my fans I really worry about. It’s the people in the industry. They’re the ones I have to convince I’m no longer John-Boy.”

Even still, while his work on a series may have felt tedious at times, it also provided a level of safety that Thomas wasn’t even aware of until it was gone. In an interview with the Abilene Reporter-News, he commented, “Suddenly, it was all gone. Suddenly, I was reading scripts and trying to decide what to do, and where to do it, and with whom.” On top of all of these decisions, Thomas was also tasked with ensuring that those who wanted to work with him were willing to do it for the right reasons. He said, “Some people wanted to give me a job BECAUSE of my selling power – and others didn’t because I had been in a series.”

Luckily, Thomas was able to choose meaningful roles that left a lasting impact, and while we’ll always remember him as John-Boy, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a darn versatile actor.

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