We've all got a list of TV families we hope we can be a part of. Some folks wish they could have grown up in the Brady Bunch residence.
Others wished they had their own Uncle Jesse and Joey. And some of us wanted to be a part of the goodnight ritual shown in every episode of The Waltons.
Grandpa Zebulon Walton was one of the Waltons' most famous characters. Grandpa was a key presence in each of the Waltons' lives as the family patriarch, and he was strongly featured in numerous episodes of the show as well.
Unfortunately, he vanished from the show in Season 7. So, what happened to Grandpa?
What Happened to Grandpa on ‘The Waltons’?
If you were a fan of The Waltons when it first aired in the 1970s, you may recall hearing the news that Will Geer, who played Grandpa Zebulon Walton, had died. Will died of respiratory failure on April 22, 1978, just after Season 6 of The Waltons wrapped.
Will's farewell episode saw Grandpa reconciling with Grandma Esther—Ellen Corby, who played Grandma—after being away from the program during Season 6 due to a stroke.
Rather than replacing the actor who portrayed Grandpa, the showrunners chose to insert Will's death into the show.
In the first episode of Season 7, each family member stands around Grandpa Zebulon's grave to pay their respects. Grandma Esther delivered the most heartbreaking line of all: “Old man, you live in all of us.”
Will's family gathered around his deathbed to recite Robert Frost poems and sing Woody Guthrie songs, according to his obituary in The New York Times. In truth, Will had known Woody Guthrie since the 1940s, when they first met in California.
They even collaborated on an album called Bound for Glory: Songs and Stories of Woody Guthrie, which was published in 1956.
Will Geer is most known for his portrayal of Zebulon Walton on The Waltons, although he lived a full life before taking on the role. Will was a passionate social activist who was active in labor organizing and other activities in the '30s and '40s, in addition to befriending and performing with Woody Guthrie.
Will was blacklisted in the early 1950s for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He wasn't able to appear in many films or television shows, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming an actor. In 1951, he and his then-wife, Herta Ware, founded the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.
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There, he merged his love of playing with his love of horticulture, constructing a theater for other blacklisted performers and folk singers as well as cultivating every plant mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. He eventually returned to the sector, first intermittently and then more consistently. He was cast as Zebulon Walton in 1972.
All nine seasons of The Waltons, starring Will Geer as Grandpa Walton, are available to rent on Amazon Prime Video. Does anyone else feel like running a marathon?