Former teen idol Robby Benson thought this secret would ruin his career

Former teen idol Robby Benson thought this secret would ruin his career

I don’t think there was a girl at my school in the ’70s who didn’t have a huge crush on Robby Benson!

With his light blue eyes and dark hair, Robby rose to fame through films such as Ice Castles and Ode to Billy Joe.

But did you know that the popular heartthrob was hiding a secret he believed could end his career if made public?

Robby Benson in 1978, New York City. (Getty Images)

Today, Robby Benson is 67 and he’s an ideal example of someone aging to perfection. He still has his beautiful blue eyes and looks very handsome – perhaps he’s more handsome now than he was when he was younger!

The popular teen idol was born in Dallas, Texas, but moved to New York City with his family when he was five. Robby’s father worked in the cotton business in Dallas, but he was also a comedy writer – and opportunities were far better in The Big Apple.

Soon, Robby would follow his father into show business, and started to appear in commercials, soap operas, and on Broadway at the age of six. When he turned 10, he started acting and took his mother’s last name as his stage name.

In the 1960s, Robby really caught the acting bug after seeing a stage production of the musical Oliver!. He hired an agent and soon toured Japan as the lead in the very same show.

With his big, beautiful eyes and his extraordinary talent, Robby was destined for bigger things. He made his film debut in 1967 and landed a role on the daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow, a long-running success on CBS.

However, most people will forever remember Robby for stealing young girls’ hearts in 1970s movies like Ice Castles and The Chosen and Ode to Billy.

ONE ON ONE written by and starring Robby Benson (WB 1977) Trivia: Robby talked Warner Bros. publicity department into…

Posted by Robby Benson on Friday, May 4, 2018

But the critics didn’t like him, and one film writer noted that Robby was “cute as Bambi and twice as smarmy”. Luckily, he won the affection of a whole generation, and more importantly, he simply loved what he was doing.

”It was a wonderful time. I had a blast, I really didn’t know what I was doing, and I loved it. Show business has changed a lot, especially for young actors… But back then, I would have paid THEM to be in the movies,” he told The Item in 1993. 

But after being a familiar face on screen through the late ’70s and early ’80s, Robby sort of disappeared.

In the ’90s, he did a lot of voice acting – including his most famous work as the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I remember when I first heard that it was actually Robby who did the voice of the Beast – I didn’t expect that harsh, scary voice to come out of someone as slender & well-spoken as Robby.

”They gave me an incredible amount of freedom. I didn’t want Beast to be a cartoon character. I played it as though I were doing a Broadway show. As if this was a living person,” Robby told Movieweb.

Robby was already a very experienced voice actor when he landed the job as the Beast in 1991. He had started working with voice acting when he was 14 – but starring as the Beast in the Disney classic made Robby an icon, and it has immortalized him in a way. The film is still very popular, and Beauty and the Beast remains one of Broadway’s biggest successes of the current era.

Whenever video games or other projects involving the Beast are to be released, it’s 67-year-old Robby who usually does the voice.

”I’m always honored. They always come to me. They are very loyal. But I am sure, one day, they will find a sound alike. And pay them cheaper, and kick me out of the loop (laughs). Until that happens, I want to be the guy,” he explained.

Robby benson. (Photo by: Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The role became crucial for Robby, who had felt hexed by his looks. He wanted to be appreciated for his artistry – but Disney initially delayed the announcement of his name in the cast. Producers apparently feared that people wouldn’t like their choice. 


”We read Tim Curry, Gary Busey, a variety of people. We even considered David Bowie”, co-director Kirk Wise said in 1991. 

”But we couldn’t find anybody to bring balance to the character. Robby was the first to give the character that balance, as woo as a sense of humor.” 

Health problems

Unfortunately, Robby has experienced some highs and lows in his career. The hardships have often been health-related, beginning in his teenage years.

As a young boy, Robby was diagnosed with a heart murmur – the actor first began experiencing symptoms in his late twenties. He started feeling dizzy at times, and once, he even lost consciousness.

”I remember passing out and was thinking, ’Wow, this is serious. But I better not tell anyone,” he said. 

One of my greatest honors as an actor was playing Billy Mills in the movie Running Brave. Karla and I love Billy and his wife Pat, they are incredible people.Here is a pic from the film. xoxo- R

Posted by Robby Benson on Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Afraid of losing his job as an actor, he told many of his colleagues that he suffered from indigestion and fatigue. But while shooting The Chosen, Robby opened up and talked with his co-star, Rod Steiger, about his heart condition.

”He said that if anything were to happen to my heart, to never let anyone know,” Robby recalled. “It’s career suicide.”

On the set of Die Laughing, the actor fell very ill, and soon understood that he had to seek medical attention. Robby was just about to make the leap from teen idol to established star in Hollywood – so he didn’t want to tell anyone about what the doctors had found on his heart years before.

But after almost collapsing on location during the filming of Die Laughing, he was forced to act. All this led to him undergoing open-heart surgery in 1984. The surgeons repaired a valve defect and according to reports, the procedure went ‘extremely well.’

Robby was discharged from the hospital after a month – but it wasn’t over.

Wikipedia Commons / Melody Joy Kramer

Sadly, Robby’s chronic heart condition would become a recurring source of worry and trouble. During his first surgery in 1984, he received a bovine valve transplant – but it had to be replaced after 15 years. He had a second surgery in 2000, but not long after that, the former teen star started having trouble breathing.

Today, Robby has undergone four open-heart surgery to fix the recurring problems and to correct previous damage to his heart. The recurring problems with Robby’s heart took a toll on him – both privately and career-wise. Balancing those two things while fearing for his life wasn’t easy. And this was hardly helped by Robby’s initial attempts to hide his health problems.

But much thanks to his wife of 40 years, he pulled through.

”She helped me find doctors, she made sure I was getting the best treatment, the right medicine,” he told USA Today. ”I’m alive because of her.”

Robby married rock singer Karla DeVito in 1982. The couple fell in love after meeting on the set of The Pirates of Penzance. Together, Robby and Karla have raised two children, daughter Lyric (b.1983) and son Zephyr (b.1992).

We've been married 40 years! I am the luckiest man on the planet Earth – or as lawyers say, "and in all universes and galaxies in perpetuity!"

Posted by Robby Benson on Thursday, July 14, 2022

Robby has also had a successful career outside of show business. He worked as a teacher at the University of South Carolina for two years, where he also lived for a period. When Robby and his wife DeVito moved to Los Angeles in the early 90s, Robby began working as a teacher at UCLA. He later became a professor of film production but retired in 2016.

In 2019, Robby, who is now a grandparent, reappeared on the screen in Apple Seed. He also starred as the father in a Hallmark Channel film called A Feeling of Home.

“I’ve loved the relationship of the father I play and his daughter because as a parent, you always want to make sure there’s an open and honest relationship with your children. Even if they’re in their 20s or 30s, you wake up in the middle of the night still worried and hoping everything’s OK. The most important thing to me on the planet is my love for my wife and my family,” he said.


To all of my FB friends, I'm going to get back in the business and back in front of the camera. So… new headshot. eeeooo, robby

Posted by Robby Benson on Tuesday, October 4, 2016

I loved watching Robby’s movies – I always thought he was an excellent actor and performer! Today, Robby has aged like fine wine, and I mean FINE!

Great hair, great voice, beautiful eyes and very grounded and humble – thank you for all the memories Robby!