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Mary McDonough spent her formative years portraying Erin Walton on the popular CBS series The Waltons. After the show ended in 1981, the one-time child actor wanted to transition into more adult roles. But she soon discovered that she wasn’t exactly what casting directors were looking for. In an effort to boost her career, she decided to get breast implants. It was a decision she later came to regret. 

Mary McDonough struggled to find work after ‘The Waltons’ was canceled 

Side by side 1984 portrait of Mary McDonough and photo of McDonough and Will Geer on 'The Waltons'
[L-R] Mary McDonough in 1984; McDonough and Will Geer on ‘The Waltons’ | Getty Images; CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

McDonough had spent years as a major character on a popular TV show. But that didn’t count for much when she tried to land new roles after The Waltons ended. 

“I was typecast as the ‘all-American girl,’” she recalled in her 2011 memoir Lessons From the Mountain. The actor, who had long struggled with her body image, also felt that her looks were holding her back. 

“I doubted myself and tried to get even thinner than I already was, thinking maybe it was my body that didn’t fit in,” she wrote. Her confidence took another hit when her long-time agent dropped her.

Mary McDonough of ‘The Waltons’ wanted to fit in with the ‘Dallas’ era

The cast of 'Dallas' in 1984
The cast of ‘Dallas’ in 1984 | CBS via Getty Images

Faced with limited career options, McDonough considered posing for the adult magazine Oui. Many other stars posed for Oui or Playboy (including McDonough’s Waltons co-star Judy Norton), and McDonough felt she should join the club. But when she sat down for the Q&A that would accompany the photo spread, she got nervous when she was quizzed about when (and with whom) she’d first had sex. Her refusal to answer the questions led to the photo shoot being canceled, which “turned out to be a gift,” she said.

Though she didn’t strip down for a risqué photo shoot, McDonough still felt pressure to conform to 1980s standards of beauty, which meant being busty and blonde. 

“It was the Dallas era, where big hair and big boobs were the order of the day,” she wrote. “No matter how much I brought to the audition, or how hard I worked, I wasn’t thin, blonde, or built enough.” 

After a fellow actor raved about her breast implants, McDonough, then 22 years old, decided to pursue plastic surgery. She trusted her surgeon, who assured her that the implants were safe and would “last a lifetime.” 

McDonough’s plastic surgery led to serious health problems 

'The Waltons' actor Mary McDonough with her daughter, who is hiding her face
Mary McDonough with her daughter Sydnee | John Storey/Getty Images

‘The Waltons’ Star Mary McDonough Celebrated Her 21st Birthday With George Clooney

At first, McDonough was pleased with her new look, though it didn’t change her underlying dissatisfaction with her body. Nor did it lead to more work. Worse, the implants soon began affecting her health. 

The Waltons star experienced strange rashes, headaches, chronic fatigue, and mysterious pains and muscle aches. She visited a range of doctors, but no one could tell her what was causing her symptoms. She began to suspect the breast implants were causing her problems. Though doctors brushed off her concerns, she opted to have the implants removed in 1994. During the procedure, her surgeon discovered the implants had ruptured. 

“I got very, very sick… My implants ruptured and disintegrated in my chest,” McDonough told Fox News in 2017. “I was sick for 10 years and no one knew what was wrong with me.”

‘The Waltons’ cast member regretted her decision to have plastic surgery 

Eventually, McDonough was diagnosed with lupus, which she believes was caused by the implants. She also feared the implants had harmed her daughter, who had a number of health problems as a child. 

“If I had been told there was a ‘supposed’ link to autoimmune disease … I never would have considered having implants,” she wrote in her memoir. 

McDonough eventually became an activist fighting for safe breast implants. Meanwhile, her own health improved once she got rid of the implants. 

“Once I had my implants removed, I started to get better,” she told Fox News. “My lupus is in remission. I still deal with fibromyalgia and arthritis… But, I’m… healthier. I’m way healthier than I was in my 30s… The further I get from those implants, the better I get.”

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