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Richard Thomas, wrestling with angels

Published Sep. 26, 2005

(ran GB edition)

Richard Thomas may have played the big brother in a cozy family on TV, but real life was a whole different scenario.

The actor best known as John-Boy on the long-running series, The Waltons, is nearing 49. You'd never know by looking at him that he's contending with seven children.

Thomas heads a "blended" family. He's the father of a 23-year-old son and 18-year-old triplet daughters from his first marriage. His wife of five years, Georgiana, has two teen daughters and together the pair has a 3{-year-old son.

"Family blending is a really major deal," he says over a mixed-green salad in an Italian restaurant here.

"It's post-graduate work, but the only people who do it are people who've already failed the course," he laughs.

Thomas, still with a boyish face, has been working since he got his acting card at 7.

He admits his own childhood was colorfully bohemian. "I'm not going to paint an idealized picture of my childhood or my parents, because it is pointless," he says.

"They were just human beings who had terrific skills in some areas and not in others. But fundamentally there was a sense of safety, some anchoring somewhere. Also, in a way, it used to seem to me that one of the reasons I was able to steer a fairly steady course was because I was raised by dancers.

"Because I started very young and didn't have huge fame as a child, but was a working actor and spent years working in New York in theater and in live TV."

His job was always considered a commitment _ not a license.

"I wasn't famous, didn't make a lot of money, wasn't a big publicity deal. I was just a working kid actor."

That working kid actor was suddenly thrust into the fast lane when he was 21 and cast as John-Boy. Everybody loved the Walton family, especially his endearing and honorable character. (The show still runs on cable's TNN.)

Ever since that hit series, he hasn't had trouble working.

He co-starred in In the Name of the People recently on CBS. He played the father of a murdered child who begins to empathize with the killer, though his wife is bent on vengeance.

He appears in the feature film Wonder Boy with Michael Douglas. Thomas still hosts It's a Miracle on Pax TV.

Even though his early fame transported Thomas into the firmament, he still managed to keep his footing.

"Here I was, 21 years old, star of a television series. I'd won the Emmy, I'm in Los Angeles, living by myself and I buy my first car. What did I buy? A white Volvo station wagon. That gives you an idea," he chuckles.

"I was having it all but I never completely slid all the way down. There was a practicality there."

The fall came later when Thomas and his first wife split up. The couple had a son and well-publicized triplets.

About that he says, "The breakup of my marriage was hugely important. It was a nightmare, a horrible, devastating experience for me and for the kids. But it was also a great event. It was so much rebuilding and relearning and re-educating myself in so many things _ just such huge changes in my life that have been wonderfully productive and have helped me to get into this part of my life."

Thomas worked with a therapist.

"I know people make jokes about it but to begin the journey of self-discovery was really important to me, and I'm extremely grateful for it," he says.

"I changed a lot about how I go about thinking about my own life and interacting with people and just learning. It was a rebirth of sorts."

At this point, Thomas and Georgiana have three of their children living with them _ their 3{-year-old, one of the triplets and Georgiana's younger daughter.

Thomas, who may do three films a year, says he's a diligent hands-on father. He and his wife both love cooking and much of their courtship was spent in the kitchen.

Thomas admits he's a perfectionist, though he adds, "I'm a control freak basically _ not as perfectionistic as I used to be at all."

"A part of it was the whole collapse of my entire life system (that) sort of kicked perfectionism right out the window. I still have the innate need to control and make things neat, but it's a manageable level. Whatever those angels are, you wrestle with them every day. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't."