• Actress Ellen Corby was "Grandma" on The Waltons
  • The character disappeared beginning in season 5
  • A real-life incident caused Corby's absence

The Waltons lost a beloved star when "Grandma Esther Walton" disappeared in season 5. On the show, it was said that "Grandma" was in the hospital, but she didn't return until over a year later in season 6. Here's what actually happened.

The Waltons: "Grandma" actress Ellen Corby had a stroke

The absence of "Grandma" on The Waltons has a sad explanation. In real life, actress Ellen Corby suffered a stroke in 1977. It left her with permanent speech and mobility problems, and there were fears that she may never return to The Waltons.

But after a year of recovery, Corby did make her way back to the TV show. "Grandma Walton" returned in the season 6 finale and was treated as a stroke survivor — mirroring Corby's real-life experience.

Corby's return came in the episode "Grandma Comes Home." It made for a nice reunion with "Grandpa Walton," but it was also their last episode together. "Grandpa" actor Will Geer passed away shortly after the episode aired, and it was his last.

Also interesting:

Actress Ellen Corby after The Waltons

Ellen Corby forever lived with the aftereffects of her stroke, but she stayed with The Waltons until the show ended in 1980. Afterward, she acted just a few times more and returned for several of The Waltons reunion movies.

According to Cheatsheet, star Michael Learned once said of Corby after the stroke: "She struggled but she never felt sorry for herself."

"I never felt that she was feeling self-pity or any of that," Learned added. "She had a strength of character that was beyond description. We all had fun together actually. Even after she had her disability, we still had a lot of fun."

Ellen Corby eventually passed away at the age of 87 in 1999. She was survived by a friend named Stella Luchetta, who is thought to have been her partner.