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Why Did Richard Thomas Leave the Waltons? What He’s Up to Now

Why Did Richard Thomas Leave the Waltons? What He’s Up to Now

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The Waltons was a hugely popular show in the 70s that gave audiences a heartwarming look at country life in Depression-era Virginia.

One of the most endearing characters was John or “John-Boy,” the eldest Walton son. An idealistic young writer, John-Boy was a cornerstone of the beloved Walton family.

But John’s actor, Richard Thomas, left the show in season 5, much to the dismay of his fans. Discover the reasons behind his decision, the aftermath on the show, and what Thomas has been up to since

Why Richard Thomas Left the Waltons in His Own Words

Richard Thomas chose to leave The Waltons because he wanted to do other projects and thought the character’s arc was complete.

In a 2023 YouTube video on his co-star Judy Norton’s channel, Thomas gave an interview in which he revealed exactly why he left The Waltons in season 5. “In the infinite wisdom of a 26-year-old,” he joked, “I decided it was time to move on.”

He went on to explain, “I did feel at that point in time that John-Boy had grown to a certain plan age-wise, and going to college, and all that, how much more could he have been that character? How much more was there for me to bring?”

Close up still of John-Boy in the Waltons TV show

Thomas also said that he not only wanted to move on to other projects, but ensure he wasn’t always stuck with the John-Boy image. “The other factor was, I wanted to have time to do other stuff, as everybody does, after a certain point.”

“And I figured, I think maybe correctly – and it was weird at my age to have that insight – but I thought, ‘If I’ve done this show for five years, it’s gonna take 10 years to … accrue the amount of work that would balance the kind of influence that a series regular has.”

That’s not to say the Richard Thomas enjoyed leaving the show. It was an “objective” decision he said, but “actually experiencing it was not fun. I hated going. I hated saying goodbye to everybody.”

Did Richard Thomas Come Back to the Series?

Richard Thomas was replaced by Robert Wightman as John “John-Boy” Walton in season 8 of The Waltons. Robert Wightman played John-Boy for a total of 16 episodes. But eventually, Richard Thomas returned as John-Boy, replacing his own replacement.

Thomas returned in his role as John-Boy for three episodes in season 6 and three television movies in the 1990s. Those films are A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion (1993), A Walton Wedding (1995), and A Walton Easter (1997).

Actor Richard Thomas posing for fans in Louisville, Kentucky on June 22, 2023
Richard Thomas posing for fans in Louisville, Kentucky on June 22, 2023. Credit: Vicki L. Miller/

Thomas also hosted and narrated the 2021 TV movie presentation The Waltons: Homecoming, a 50th anniversary remake of the original Waltons TV movie.

He did the same for the follow-up TV movie, A Waltons Thanksgiving, in 2022. He played himself rather than John-Boy, however.

What Happened To John-Boy?

At the end of season 5, John-Boy Walton moves to New York to pursue a career as a writer. He’s mostly absent from the series until season 8 when he returns home from WW II.

After much struggle, John-Boy finally enrolls in the fictional Boatwright College in season 3. He takes classes throughout seasons 3 and 4, but eventually, he shifts his focus to running his own newspaper.

In season 5, John-Boy also starts writing his own novel, which he ends up sending to a publisher in New York. In the season 5 finale, John-Boy officially moves to New York.

John-Boy Walton in The Waltons TV series as he comes home in season 8

He reappears in just three episodes of season 6, during which he becomes part of the war effort in Europe. The Walton family doesn’t see him again until season 8, in which they learn he’s been injured in the war and is now in a coma.

Once he awakens from his coma, John-Boy suffers from mild amnesia but mostly recovers. He ends up back in the newspaper business and marries Janet Gilchrist. Together, they have twin children, Jade and John.

What Is Thomas Doing Now?

Richard Thomas recently appeared on season 4 of Ozark as Nathan Davis, Wendy Byrde’s father. He often appears as a guest star on television series, but also had a major role in The Americans.

Richard Thomas has appeared on popular shows such as Chicago P.D., Elementary, Blue Bloods, Billions, and The Blacklist. In the 90s, he acted against Tim Curry in the television adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

His biggest TV role since leaving The Waltons was on The Americans. He starred as Frank Gaad over the show’s four seasons.

While occasionally acting in movies such as The Unforgiveable (2021), Richard Thomas acts more in the theater when not on TV. In 2022, he started as Atticus Finch in the national tour of To Kill a Mockingbird. He’s also performed onstage in The Little Foxes, 12 Angry Men, and Race.

Thomas says that stage acting helps him break away from stereotypes in his career. “Working in theater and classics was enormously helpful to me because it doesn’t spark the same type of stereotypes,” he told The Dispatch in June 2023. “You can spread your wings and do more varied repertoire.”