‘7th Heaven’: While Matt Camden Was at College the Actor Behind Him Was Battling Cancer

TV shows like 7th Heaven keep viewers occupied with a large rotation of characters. Deriving its name from the number of children in the Camden family, the show quickly garnered a following as large as its cast. Dedicated fans got to watch the family grow and evolve, with each Camden child eventually leaving the nest to pursue their dreams. As a result, the cast members behind the characters inevitably came and went as well. When leading man Barry Watson said goodbye to the show, he had a much sadder exit reason than his on-screen counterpart. 

(L-R) Barry Watson, Jessica Biel and David Gallagher smiling at the camera
(L-R) Barry Watson, Jessica Biel and David Gallagher | L. Cohen/Getty Images

7th Heaven aired for eleven seasons 

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In the late ’80s and ’90s, family dramas like Full House dominated the airwaves. Every episode contained wholesome family values and life lessons that trained audience members right alongside their favorite characters. Needless to say, the WB network couldn’t have picked a better time to debut 7th Heaven than 1996. As IMDb recaps, the show follows the Camden family in California. Patriarch Eric Camden is a Protestant minister who helps to raise his seven children alongside his wife, Annie.

Remaining true to their religious roots, the family frequently opens their home as a shelter to people going through a rough time. Their capacity for taking in guests only increases as the children grow up right before viewers’ eyes, eventually moving out and charting their own paths. As the oldest child in the family, it was unsurprising that Matt Camden was soon departing from the household and pursue his dreams of medical school. Behind the scenes, however, Matt portrayer Barry Watson faced a much more daunting medical journey. 

Barry Watson took on an off-screen battle

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In 2002, the 7th Heaven star was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Just a month after receiving the scary news, Watson was being treated with a “chemotherapy cocktail,” as he referred to it in an interview with GQ. According to GQ, Watson first starting worrying about his health when he noticed inexplicable feelings of great fatigue. Soon afterward, he felt a large lump on the side of his neck and went to the doctor at his mother’s urging. At just 28 years old, Watson was confirmed to have cancer. 

His departure for treatment, unfortunately, necessitated his character to be written off the show. On-screen family members excused his absence with talk of his own expanding family and career ambitions. However, Watson didn’t completely remove his talents from the set. In the interview, Watson credits the show’s creator with helping him to land a story editing role for the series — a position that he called a “godsend because it kept [him] focused on something else — not [his] cancer.” Matt also made occasional appearances in later seasons of 7th Heaven. 

The future looks bright for the actor

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As of 2021, it has been eighteen years since Watson won his battle against Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Although the disease may have halted his career for a while, he’s been able to get back into the acting industry and his roles have been met with just as much fanfare. According to Entertainment Weekly, Watson was able to more recently showcase his talents on series like Gossip GirlHart of Dixie, and Master of Sex. While fans of the show pray for a reboot, Watson is enjoying a healthy life with his three children and wife, Natasha Wagner.