It's always jarring when a show recasts a familiar character with a new actor, but it's been done since the early days of television for myriad reasons. One of the most memorable recastings in TV history is also one of the oldest: the two Darrins of Bewitched. The classic series replaced original actor Dick York with Dick Sargent in Season 6, but many fans still to this day don't know why Dick York chose to leave Bewitched. The story is actually quite sad.
Why did Dick York leave 'Bewitched'? His health made work impossible.
Many have speculated through the years that Dick York's departure from the show had to do with either a dispute with the network or show executives or a clash with the cast, but nothing could be further from the truth. The actor loved his job so much he stuck it out far longer than he should have given the numerous health problems that plagued him on set.
A few years prior to production on the first season of Bewitched, Dick had suffered a debilitating and permanent back injury on the set of the film They Came to Cordura. The chronic pain from the injury made standing for long periods of time difficult and also caused the actor to become dependent on painkillers to get through the day.
To provide some accommodation for Dick's pain, a slanted wall was built backstage for him to lean on between takes, which helped for a time, but midway through the third season, his pain worsened and would cause frequent shooting delays. Eventually, Dick was given more scenes where Darrin was either lying in bed or seated on the couch. Later in his run, Darrin was written out of episodes with the explanation that he was away on business or by focusing on Samantha visiting with her warlock kin.
After Season 5, Dick York was replaced with Dick Sargent.
An illness during filming of the fifth season finally benched York for good. Despite being sick and feverish, York reported to work and, while filming a special effects scene on a scaffolding, Dick collapsed. While in the hospital recovering, he was visited by director William Asher asked if he wanted to quit, and York answered, "If it's all right with you, Billy," according to his own account in his final interview before his death in 1992.
When the show returned for its sixth season, Darrin was portrayed by Dick Sargent. Bewitched only filmed two seasons with Sargent as Darrin before the show was canceled due to fallen ratings as well as star Elizabeth Montgomery's wish to move on.
Dick York's health struggle continued for the next two decades.
Sadly, Dick's health did not improve after he stepped away from Bewitched. Along with the chronic back pain, he had developed a powerful addiction to prescription drugs that consumed his life for the next two years. He eventually quit the drugs, enduring a horrific withdrawal complete with auditory hallucinations.
Though he overcame his addiction, Dick's health problems were ongoing and his career in Hollywood was pretty much over. He and his wife Joan purchased an apartment building and planned to live off the rent for income, but he proved too compassionate for the job of landlord. "We rented to people who were on welfare and a lot of times they couldn't pay the rent. We wouldn't throw them out so we lost the building," he said in his posthumous autobiography.
His teeth rotted and he put on over 100 pounds and found it difficult to find other work. But in the late 1980s, Dick turned himself around, losing the weight and getting his teeth fixed. He staged a brief comeback, with guest appearances on Fantasy Island and Simon and Simon, but soon the calls stopped again, and Dick dedicated his last years to teaching acting and working with the homeless.
The years of poor health were not helped by his cigarette habit, and the three-pack-a-day smoker developed emphysema, which ultimately claimed his life at the age of 63 on Feb. 20, 1992. Though his career was cut short, York is still fondly remembered to this day, thanks to reruns on Nick at Nite and TV Land, which have kept Bewitched alive for fans young and old.