Linda Kaye Henning was an advocate for cancer research
Warning: This story is a bit of a tear-jerker.
Regarding actors, usually, the most publicized stories are the professional parts. We learn about their lives onscreen, what they were like on set, and who they were to their costars. But, lots of times, the aspects that are outside of the public view are even richer and more interesting.
Linda Henning's most notable onscreen role was as Betty Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction. Henning starred in the show, which her father produced, from 1963 to 1970. She was one of only three cast members to stick with the show for its entirety. Henning appeared in all but three of the show's 222 episodes.
During her time on the show, Henning became affiliated with the San Fernando Valley Unit of the American Cancer Society and would remain active as a volunteer for years to come.
"Cancer was hitting me very close to home," Henning told the Contra Costa Times in 1977. "Bea Benaderet was a very special person in my life. She was the one who got me on the show, even though my father, a writer, was its creator.
"She educated me and coaxed me and so it is very hard to describe how I felt as I watched her literally smoking herself to death."
Linda Henning took this sad story and turned it into a lifelong advocacy for cancer research. While still an actress, her schedule kept her from volunteering full-time, but Henning still found the hours to put in the work. She signed up with the San Fernando Valley Unit's transportation department in her free time. She would remain on-call to drive patients in need to their appointments.
At first, she was apprehensive about how much she had to give, but eventually, she grew to love and appreciate the work.
"One man told me he felt good about having a volunteer driving him," Henning said. "He said he always felt as if he were imposing when he called on a relative for help, but with a volunteer, he didn't. 'You guys do it because you want to,' he told me."