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Child star of “Family Affair” finds faith, sobriety after long battle

Actor Johnny Whitaker became a child star on the television series “Family Affair” and went on to live a turbulent life. Today, he shares a message of faith and overcoming addiction at a county jail.

“Once a month, I go in to share my experience, as well as offer strength and hope,” the 64-year-old told Fox News. “I do it through my ministry. I want to tell these guys that there is hope. They can get clean and sober. They can get out of the revolving door that they find themselves in.”

“Family Affair” centered on a swinging bachelor (Brian Keith) who was given custody of his late brother’s three children. Whitaker said he still has fond memories of bringing the series to life. “It was always fun,” he said. “We were always coddled and cared for by Brian, along with the producers and directors. They took care of us. It was an adventure.”

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Over the years, Whittaker kept busy making appearances on hit TV shows such as “Bonanza,” “Bewitched” and “Gunsmoke,” among others. But at age 16, he found himself attending parties in Hollywood where he was exposed to drugs and alcohol. It didn’t take long for him to use, and it quickly took over his life.

“I had a family intervention,” he said. “It was extremely embarrassing, and I was very upset. I signed this contract my brother gave me, but I didn’t stop. When you’re an addict, you don’t like to admit there’s a problem. You’re not just going to suddenly stop. But I believe that every addict and alcoholic knows that they have a problem.”

It wouldn’t be until later that Whitaker had “aha moment, a God shot.” The drugs no longer had the same effect he was yearning for. And on Sept. 25, 1997, he decided to finally get help. His faith in God also gave him a newfound purpose to get sober, he said. Today, Whitaker said he’s found peace through sobriety and faith. And through his ministry, he’s able to encourage other inmates to turn their lives around as a drug and alcohol counselor. He previously served as a missionary in Portugal from 1979 to 1981.

“I’m not planning to fully retire,” he said. “I’m working on my memoirs and hoping to get that out at the end of the year. I also have a documentary on the drug policies of Portugal. And this summer in North Carolina, I’m working with Charlene Tilton, a friend of mine, on a new film. She’s the female lead, so we’ve been busy working on that.”

Whitaker’s co-star, Mary Anissa Jones, who played Buffy, never found the help she needed when the series ended. She died of a drug overdose in 1976 at the age of 18.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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