How Bipolar Disorder Impacted Actress Kristy McNichol's Career

A Look at Kristy McNichol and Her Public Experience with Bipolar Disorder

Kristy McNichol
onaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kristy McNichol's career might have been short-lived, but she managed to make quite a name for herself as a two-time Emmy award-winning actress during the 1970s and '80s. Born September 11, 1962 in Los Angeles, McNichol got her start as an actress as a child, appearing in her first commercial at age six. She made her television debut in 1974's "Apple's Way," which failed to produce an audience and was canceled.

McNichol's Career Breakthrough

McNichol continued to work steadily and eventually landed a role on the show "Family," which ran from 1976 to 1980 and earned her two Emmy awards. She dabbled in music and movies, and after "Family" wrapped, she decided to take her film career more seriously.

McNichol had a fair amount of film success, including "Little Darlings" with Tatum O'Neal, and the mediocre film "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" with Dennis Quaid. Unfortunately her next film "The Pirate Movie" was a critical and commercial flop. She also filmed 1982's "White Dog," which was never even released in the United States due to its controversial plot.

McNichol's Struggle with Bipolar Disorder

McNichol's confidence was understandably shaken followed by the string of professional failures, but she continued to act. At age 23, she traveled to France to film "Just the Way You Are." Toward the end of filming, the cast and crew went on a 2-week break.

McNichol returned home to California, but she didn't go back to France after the break.

Drug abuse rumors were rampant as the media tried to make sense of the news. The movie studio released a statement saying McNichol had a "chemical imbalance," which only stoked speculation. This, unfortunately, was not a period of great sensitivity or understanding of mental health issues, particularly those that carried such strong stigma like bipolar due to misinformation and misunderstanding.

But McNichol did, in fact, have a breakdown. Like so many other actors who get their start so young, McNichol had finally reached a breaking point. She began extensive psychotherapy. Some reports say this is when she was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

McNichol eventually finished filming "Just the Way You Are" and spent the next few years starring in a series of forgettable movies. However, she made a comeback in 1988 when she landed a starring role in the popular television series "Empty Nest." McNichol did eventually leave the series in 1993, reportedly due to her bipolar disorder.

Where She Is Today

In the late '90s she did some voiceover work for the animated series "Invasion America." After that, she virtually disappeared and didn't come back into the public eye until 2012 when she came out as a lesbian, hoping that her story and struggle could help others. She continues to live in Los Angeles.


Kristy McNichol. 2011
Whatever Happened to Kristy McNichol. Talking MOVIEzzz. 2008.
Kristy McNichol.

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