Because Eight Is Enough Wasn't Enough, Dick Van Patten and His TV Brood Get Together One Last Time

updated 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Eight Is Enough was abruptly canceled in 1981 after placing in the Nielsen Top 10 for four years, there was no goodbye party, no wake, no nothing. The decision to end the gentle comedy—featuring Dick Van Patten and Betty Buckley as parents attempting to raise eight kids—was made off-season to make room for more action shows. And so the Bradford bunch, one of TV's favorite families, suddenly ceased to exist. Some cast members read the news in the paper. Some heard it from their agents. Others from friends. "There was an incomplete feeling about it, like closing a door on part of your life that didn't get closed right," says Laurie Walters, who played Joannie, one of the sitcom's children. The feeling was shared by Harry Harris, who directed most of the show's episodes. "There were a lot of loose ends," he remembers. "They never gave us the chance to bring anything to a conclusion."

For the past two years Harris has dreamed of reassembling the gang for one last have-at-it. Not an easy task. Let alone selling the idea, just try to coordinate a shooting schedule for all the actors, then figure who gets paid how much and which ego gets what billing. But with persistence—and a big boost from the current popularity of The Cosby Show, Family Ties and other kin-corns—the cast assembled last month to make Reunion, an NBC TV movie scheduled to air this fall. The kids had agreed to equal pay ($25,000 each) and alphabetical listing in the credits. Most of the original crew had been rehired, the set had been rebuilt and only Betty (Cats) Buckley, who was making a Roman Polanski movie, was missing (her role was played by New-hart's Mary Frann). The spirit of the event was probably best expressed by Willie Aames, who played Tommy, the high school senior with a van and a rock band. "Let me tell you guys something," he said just before the 15-day shoot got underway. "We all took the show for granted. We were stunned when it got canceled. Now we got a shot to go back. Let's say goodbye in the right way."

Making peace with the past is especially important to three cast members. In contrast to the happy ending concocted in the Bradford household, Aames, Lani O'Grady and Susan Richardson have lived through some dark and painful years. Only recently has Aames, 28, kicked a dependency on drugs and alcohol and ended a seven-year estrangement from his parents. The father of a 6-year-old boy, Aames married in March for the second time. Co-starring in the syndicated TV series Charles in Charge, he also fronts his own eponymous rock band, which plays at theme parks and state fairs.

O'Grady, 32, who played Mary, underwent treatment for Valium abuse. "I was addicted the last two years of the show," she says. "It was brought on by the pressure of the series." For two years O'Grady lived in Hawaii working as a gofer on a diving boat. She now runs a TV commercial workshop in North Hollywood. O'Grady says she's drug free today, but still seems sensitive and guarded. She claims she recently made three commercials, but for some mysterious reason can't mention the product names.

Even more enigmatic and fragile is Richardson, 35, who played Susan and who recently made tabloid news with a bizarre hostage tale. According to her account, Richardson was held against her will in South Korea by American filmmakers who—instead of making the movie they'd hired her for—took away her passport, cut off her hair and forced her to live in a small village from last October to this March. Her story has yet to be fully explained. The divorced mother of a 7-year-old girl, Richardson now lives on a Pennsylvania farm. She says she's semiretiring from show business after this sequel to do missionary work.

By contrast, the rest of the cast has followed the stable example of their TV father, Van Patten, 58, who leads a comfortable existence making commercials and occasionally acting. Grant Goodeve (David), 35, starred on the soap One Life to Live and lives with his wife of nine years and their three children. Connie Needham (Elizabeth), 27, has been married for eight years to set dresser David Needham and has a 2½-year-old daughter. Laurie Walters (Joannie), 30ish, has become a busy stage actress and has never married. Ditto for actress Dianne Kay (Nancy), 32, who's just had a pilot, Once A Hero, picked up by ABC. Adam Rich, who portrayed cute little Nicholas, is now 18 and by his own admission "a lot less cute." He recently moved into his own apartment in Sherman Oaks (Van Patten is his landlord) and hopes to pursue an acting career.

Unlike most wrap parties, Reunion's seemed more like a funeral than a celebration. After a six-year hiatus, goodbyes were finally exchanged. "I've been crying through the whole show," said Richardson. "I just don't want it to end." However, Harry Harris, who hopes Eight is Enough will someday return as a series, was dry-eyed. "We're going to leave the audience wanting more," he announced to the grieving, not necessarily believing cast. "We'll all be back, I guarantee you!"

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