When “Marcus Welby M.D.” premiered on ABC on September 23rd, 1969, the pioneering medical drama featured a familiar TV face as its lead: Chicago-native Robert Young, who was coming off of six years as the star of the popular series “Father Knows Best.” Young’s new role as Dr. Marcus Welby was worlds away from his previous persona and the actor quickly shed his doting father association to fully embrace his new character – an embrace so complete that it came with a dose of controversy.
Young’s outspoken willingness to blur the line between actor and doctor helped make him television’s most recognizable physician, but it also angered many in the medical community. Many medical professionals deemed the show’s portrayal unrealistic and dangerously deceiving. Welby would sit with patients through the night, drive them home from the hospital and even invite them to dinner at his home, activities that, in the real world, would be considered highly unprofessional. To the dismay of these outraged real life doctors, Robert Young didn’t see the problem, going so far as to encourage real doctors to be more like his fictional Welby and offering unsolicited medical advice in interviews and around the set.
Robert Young spent seven seasons with the highly rated program. After “Marcus Welby, M.D.” went off the air in 1976, the star continued to appear on television and in commercials until the late 1980s. Robert Young, who accrued no less than three Hollywood stars during his career, passed away in 1998 of respiratory failure in his California home.
Robert Young’s Troubled Past
Until he became America’s most widely recognized TV doctor, audiences associated “Marcus Welby, M.D.” star Robert Young with his first big role as the father on “Father Knows Best” – ironically, one of the happiest people on TV. Yet, for Young, it was playing a wise doctor that finally helped him sort through his off screen insecurities.
Young battled both depression and alcoholism, and merely getting through the day was sometimes a challenge for the respected actor. After leaving “Father Knows Best,” Robert Young reached his lowest point and sought professional help, checking himself into treatment and eventually joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Landing the role of Dr. Welby would be the key step in his personal and public rehabilitation.