She Was 'Family Affair's Buffy: Anissa Jones's Tragic Death

Entertainment | October 13, 2018

'Family Affair' Actress Anissa Jones during filming of the television show 'Family Affair,' 1967. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Whatever happened to Anissa Jones, who played Buffy from Family Affair, the little girl audiences couldn’t help but love? Her story is a tragic one of a child actor's huge success, frustration over typecasting, and descent into drugs. Anissa Jones' death from a combination of cocaine, PCP and other drugs exposed a dark side of child stardom in Hollywood, and casts a shadow over a feel-good show that entertained a generation of TV viewers.

At eight years old, Anissa was cast as Buffy on Family Affair, which aired from 1966 until 1971. The show told the story of Buffy, her twin brother Jody (Johnny Whitaker), and their older sister Cissy (Kathy Garver), who all go live with their uncle in New York after their parents die in a car accident. Their "Uncle Bill" (Brian Keith) is a bachelor who knows nothing about taking care of kids, so he enlists the help of his valet, Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot). The life of a child actor or actress is very hard. often demanding long hours on the set that disrupt the normal process of education and socialization children need.

Before Family Affair, Anissa Jones had made her first television appearance in a breakfast cereal commercial when she was only six years old.

The 'Family' Business

A 'Family Affair' Lunch Box from 1969. Source: eBay

Buffy famously doll loved her doll, "Mrs. Beasley," which was used as a promotional gimmick for the show and sold by Mattel. Other toys and items that were marketed include paper dolls, lunch boxes, coloring books, clothing, and even a cookbook with Buffy’s picture on the cover. By the time Family Affair was canceled, Anissa was 13 years old, and she was glad to not have to be seen holding that doll any longer.

In addition to Family Affair, Anissa Jones did the usual celebrity guest appearances on talk and variety shows, including Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Dick Cavett Show, which was her last appearance on television, in 1971.

On Screen With The King

'The Trouble with Girls' lobby card, showing Anissa Jones, Pepe Brown, Marlyn Mason, and Elvis Presley. Source: moviestillsdb.com

Anissa Jones' one movie role was as Carol Bix in the Elvis Presley movie The Trouble with Girls, performing the song "Doodle Doo Doo." There were several other children in the film, including another very famous child actress, Susan Olson -- better known as Cindy Brady from the The Brady Bunch.

The Pitfalls Of Child Stardom

Anissa Jones with her co-star Johnny Whitaker in 1967. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Anissa Jones' life started out normal enough; her father held a graduate degree in engineering and was on the faculty at Purdue University, where her mother was studying zoology. Not long after she was born, the family moved to California, where her father got a job in aerospace engineering.

Life after Family Affair proved challenging for Anissa. She had hoped to work in films, but could not land the type of role she was hoping for. She auditioned for the lead role in The Exorcist (1973), but was turned down (in favor of Linda Blair) because people still thought of her as Buffy. Brian Keith offered her a part on The Brian Keith Show, which aired from 1972 to 1974, but by that time, she had lost the desire to work in television. She was also offered a chance to audition for a part in Taxi Driver, but turned that down as well. Anissa felt she was typecast, that everyone thought of her as being like Buffy, which made it hard for her to get a different type of role.

Career Frustration And Bad Decisions

Anissa Jones' high school ID, issued in 1973. Source: reelreviews.com

Just a year before she started on Family Affair, her parents had gone through a terrible divorce with a long and bitter custody battle for her and her little brother. Sadly, her father died shortly after he was awarded custody in 1973. Once her father passed away, she went to live with a friend while her brother went to live with their mother. She began to skip school and ended up being arrested, as her mother reported her as a runaway. Later, after months of being in juvenile hall, she was allowed to go live with her mother. She began taking drugs and shoplifting and, by 1975, she had dropped out of high school. 

The Final Chapter Of The Anissa Jones Story

A young Anissa Jones. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In March of 1976, on her eighteenth birthday, Anissa finally gained control of her earnings from Family Affair, a sum of $180,000 and an unspecified amount of money from U.S. savings bonds that had been held for her in a trust fund. She and her brother rented an apartment together not far from their mother. Only five months later, in August of 1976, she attended a party with a new boyfriend on the beach. Later, she was found dead in one of the bedrooms at her 14-year-old friend’s house. Her death was ruled an accidental drug overdose; cocaine, PCP, Seconal and Quaaludes were found in her system. There was also a vial of a blue liquid found by her body that was never identified. 

Anissa Jones's death at the age of 18 was a tragic but not entirely surprising end to a life that had been in decline for a few years. Her body was cremated, with her ashes being spread over the Pacific Ocean. Of the $180,000 that she had just received, she had $63,000 left and over $100,000 left in savings bonds.

There is, unfortunately, more to the saga. Anissa's doctor was arrested six days after her death, and charged with illegally prescribing the medication Seconal to her. Facing multiple charges, including second-degree murder, the doctor died just four months later while awaiting trial. The murder charges were dropped, but his estate was sued by the family with a final judgment of $79,500 awarded. As if that weren’t bad enough, on March 15, 1984, Anissa’s brother, Paul, died as well of a drug overdose. He was only 24 years old. Their mother died in January of 2012.

Tags: Anissa Jones | Celebrities When They Were Young | Child Actors | Family Affair | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Then And Now

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Terry Claypoole


Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.