Born on September 11, 1962, in Los Angeles, California, Kristy McNichol got her start in commercials as a child actress. She acted in the television drama Family, for which she won two Emmy Awards, and started a singing career. She starred in several films over the next decade, but an on-going battle with bipolar disorder harmed her productivity. She retired from acting in the late 1990s.
Born Christina Ann McNichol on September 11, 1962, in Los Angeles, California. Kristy McNichol was one of the most popular young actresses during the 1970s and 1980s. When she was three, her parents divorced. Kristy and her brothers, Jimmy and Tommy, were raised by their mother.
At the age of 6, McNichol shot her first commercial. Both she and her brother, Jimmy, were trying to make it as performers, with their mother Carollyne serving as their manager. In 1974, McNichol made her television debut in the short-lived drama Apple's Way. She played Patricia Apple, a young city girl who moves to her father's small hometown in Iowa along with her parents and three other siblings. Much of the drama centered on the clash between the family's urban ways and their new rural community. Unfortunately, the series failed to find much of an audience.
McNichol fared much better with her next television series, Family. As teenager Letitia "Buddy" Lawrence, she was the youngest member of the Lawrence family. Sada Thompson and James Broderick played her parents on the series. Meredith Baxter-Birney appeared as her older sister, Nancy, who left her husband while she was pregnant, and Gary Frank was cast as her older brother, Willie, who was in his late teens. Quinn Cummings later joined the family as Annie Cooper, their adopted daughter.
During its four-year run, the characters of Family faced many different kinds of hardships, from cancer to alcoholism. McNichol's Buddy character often had to grapple with many teen-related issues, such as dating and sexuality. For her work on the series, McNichol received four Emmy Award nominations and two Emmy Award wins. She received the Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Award in 1977, and the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Award in 1979.
In addition to her work on the series, McNichol started a film career. She made her film debut in the dark comedy The End (1978) with Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise. On the small screen, McNichol made a number of popular television movies, including Like Mom, Like Me (1978) and Summer of My German Soldier (1978). She also starred in Blinded by the Light (1980), with her brother Jimmy.
Besides acting, McNichol enjoyed some popularity as a singer. She performed on a number of television variety shows and specials, including The Donny and Marie Show and The Carpenters Christmas Special. She and her brother, Jimmy, recorded an album of disco songs in 1978, and had a minor hit with the single "He's So Fine."
Around the same time Family ended in 1980, McNichol took her film career to another level, co-starring with fellow child actress Tatum O'Neal in Little Darlings. The plot revolved around a bet between their two characters about who could lose their virginity first while at summer camp. Their love interests were played by Matt Dillon and Armand Assante. While the film received mixed reviews, McNichol won praise for her portrayal of Angel, a tomboy from the wrong side of tracks.
The following year, McNichol had two major film roles. She co-starred with Dennis Quaid as a sister-and-brother musical duo in The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (1981). The summertime drama was met with lukewarm reviews, but her next effort brought her strong praise. McNichol starred in Neil Simon's dramatic comedy Only When I Laugh (1981), as Marsha Mason's daughter. Critic Robert Ebert said that she turned in a "wonderful performance."
Unfortunately, her next film project turned out to be a critical and box-office dud. The Pirate Movie (1982) was a somewhat modernized take on the musical The Pirates of Penzance by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. In a review in The New York Times, McNichol was singled out as the best performer in the film, but she was "still not in good form." Her co-star Christopher Atkins fared much worse as he was described as "someone reciting in a school play."
Also during this time period, McNichol made one film that was not even released in the United States. White Dog (1982) was an unusual drama about a dog trained to attack people with black skin, and the efforts made to break its racist programming. After so many years of success, McNichol had her confidence shaken by this latest losing streak. But she continued on, traveling to France to film Just the Way You Are. In the movie, McNichol starred as a talented flute player with a lame leg. Hiding her physical handicap by wearing a fake cast, her character falls for a photographer while in Europe. McNichol was struggling to hold herself together during filming. "I hardly slept ... I was crying all the time ... It was the hardest thing I've ever done to try and get through that film," she told People magazine.
Near the end of filming, the cast and crew took a two-week break for the Christmas holiday. McNichol returned to California and decided not to go back to France. Soon rumors began to circulate about a possible substance abuse problem. The studio released a statement about McNichol having a "chemical imbalance," which only fueled more speculation about her. In reality, she was experiencing some type of nervous breakdown. McNichol had been working steadily since she was a child, and all of the pressures and stress related to her career may have finally caught up with her.
To help her through this difficult time, McNichol underwent extensive psychotherapy. Her brother, Jimmy, went with her to provide additional support. Some reports indicate that she was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression
When she was ready to work again, McNichol found new roles hard to come by. She did, however, finish up work on Just the Way You Are, which was released in 1984. Still, concerns about her mental health, and the possibility of her walking away from another film while in production, definitely dampened her work prospects. McNichol even briefly explored another career entirely, working for a time in 1985 as a hairdresser.
By the mid-1980s, McNichol started landing a few parts in such forgettable films as the thriller Dream Lover (1986), You Can't Hurry Love (1988) and Two Moon Junction (1988). Her work on the small screen, however, led to a career revival with the situation comedy Empty Nest. She starred as a single police detective who lives with her widower father and divorced sister.
In 1993, McNichol had to leave the popular series because she was experiencing some difficulty managing her bipolar disorder, according to a report in People magazine. She returned for a few episodes two years later, as the series was ending. In the late 1990s, McNichol did some voiceover work for the animated series Invasion America before retiring from acting.
After years of avoiding the spotlight, McNichol shared some very personal news with the media in 2012. She came out as a lesbian, hoping that her public acknowledgement of her sexuality would help others. McNichol, according to her spokesperson, "is very sad about kids being bullied ... She would like to help others who feel different."
McNichol lives in Los Angeles. The former actress now devotes her time to such pursuits as yoga and tennis. She is also huge fan of dogs, and has several miniature dachshunds.
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