Mr. Feeny: Why you don't hear much from him anymore

Whether you know him as Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World, K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider, Dr. Mark Craig from St. Elsewhere, or John Adams from 1776, actor William Daniels is one of Hollywood's greatest stars. For some fans out there, Daniels might even be best known for his stellar work on Broadway. The one thing we all have in common, however, is a great admiration for Daniels' astounding career.

Yet, ever since Boy Meets World finished, Daniels hasn't been as visible on our television screens. While a career slowdown is understandable and expected, especially considering how Daniels is over 90 years old, many long-time fans wonder if there's more to Daniels' extended absence from television. Is he retired? Is he sick or just plain sick of working? Is there any reason at all why he hasn't accepted any new roles since his few cameos on Girl Meets World?

Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that we don't have one single answer for you, but the good news is that we have several. Here's why you don't hear much from Mr. Feeny anymore.

No country for old men

Despite his status as a senior citizen, William Daniels likely has plenty left in the tank, but fans should probably prepare themselves for the day he walks away from acting for good. While some actors may announce their retirement, most just gradually take on fewer roles until they just stop.

Studies show that the number of roles available for actors over 60 are few and far between. This is bad news for actors trying to make a living at that age, but, for someone like Daniels, who's been working in the industry a long time, it might not be all that bad.

The true scope of Daniels' career is difficult to grasp. While different generations of television audiences recognize him for different iconic roles, Daniels has been in show business for longer than most people recognize. He made his professional debut dancing at the age of four. By eight, he was a regular performer on television and radio. In his teenage years, he was on Broadway. Then, when he was 40, Daniels got his first big starring role on television, playing the titular character in Captain Nice, a short-lived superhero TV series from 1967.

But that was more than 50 years ago. Daniels would later become a beloved television actor, creating characters who will be forever remembered by fans. And, as such, he's earned the right to go out on his own terms.

The actor became an author

Though we haven't seen Daniels on the screen lately, his name did make the rounds in the press in 2017 when he published his autobiography, There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, & Many Others. We don't know exactly how long writing his memoir took or how much of his schedule it occupied, but fans first got a small taste of the book in 2015, two years before it was officially published and back when it had the tentative title Still At Play.

For Daniels, writing a memoir was never planned. "I just found myself picking up a pen and a yellow pad one day and start writing," he said. "In retrospect I question my memory sometimes; it's bad except for dialogue. As soon as you pick up a pen and start writing, it's like you open a door to your memory and that's the way it was with me. I was able to — over months – [recapture] my youth, my whole experience in show business, with my sisters and [myself]."

Old habits die hard

Since Boy Meets World went off the air in 2000, many fans of who grew up with Mr. Feeny may have noticed a shortage of the actor on their TV screens. While he has worked off and on, he hasn't really taken on many new or unique characters. In fact, he's spent much of the last two decades either reprising old characters or taking on roles similar to what he's done in the past.

For instance, in that time, Daniels reprised his iconic role of Mr. Feeny in five episodes of Girl Meets World. He played a doctor on Scrubs, Paulilu Mixtape, and Grey's Anatomy — all characters reminiscent of his days on St. Elsewhere. He also reprised the voice of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider a few times, including twice on The Simpsons, as well as voicing similar AI characters in Star Trek: Voyager and Kim Possible.

With no other roles for Daniels scheduled on the horizon, fans may not expect to see him perform again, but there is a glimmer of hope out there. For a few years now, there's been talk of a Knight Rider series reboot and possible film. Though neither project has been greenlit at the time of this writing, it seems like a good bet that Daniels will, at the very least, make a cameo in one of the projects if they ever do get made.

Focusing on family

If you've ever watched or read a Daniels interview, you might notice that his wife, actress Bonnie Bartlett, is a common presence. After over six decades of marriage, these two lovebirds, it seems, are inseparable. For several years, they even got to play husband and wife on St. Elsewhere, roles that earned them Emmys on the same night. Daniels credits Bartlett for much of his individual success, or, at least, he credits her as the driving force in his career, the one who's convinced him to take on roles.

It's possible that, at this point in their lives, both actors are content spending their days relaxing and enjoying their incredible legacies without adding anything new to their plates. It's also possible that they just don't want to be apart. Though they may step on each others' toes a bit when doing interviews together — such as in this AV Club interview during which Daniels chided his wife for interrupting — Bartlett and Daniels are a package deal. But don't neglect their individuality.

In an interview with Salon, the couple recalled when a photographer made that mistake during the 1987 Emmys. "When she won, we came out and there were photographers and everything," Daniels said. "They were taking pictures and they said 'Mr. Bartlett, would you step aside please, while we get a single?'" Yep, that's right — the photographers messed up his name and separated him from his wife. 

"He did not like that," Bartlett noted.

Working when he wants

One of the most startling revelations gleaned from William Daniels' autobiography is that he was emotionally abused by his mother when he was a child. For many years, Daniels' mother decided when and where her son performed. He writes that a therapist informed him that he'd "been robbed of a normal childhood," adding that he was "forced to perform and put into situations that [he] had no control over."

Still, while Daniels mourns the loss of his childhood, he does not wholly resent his mother's ambitions. In fact, he dedicated his memoir to his mother, Irene. "In retrospect my parents were right," he admits in the book. "At least when it came to me." He added, "Clearly acting is what I wanted to do and what I've always wanted to do in spite of the countless times I said no and tried to push it all away."

These days, however, with a professional career that spans decades, Daniels has taken control of when and where he performs … or, at least, he's passed that control over to his wife. Either way, it seems unlikely that he needs any more money or accolades. Therefore, if he doesn't get offered the right role, we might not see Daniels return to the small screen at all.

Fame's not for him

Despite his incredible success in the entertainment industry, Daniels is not an actor who desires to be in the spotlight. He never has been. In an interview with Triad Today, Daniels admitted that he's wired a little differently than most actors. "I didn't have the ambition that most young actors had when they came to New York to conquer the town," he said. "I don't have any of that push. I have always been ambivalent about the business."

Daniels even went so far as to say that he fell into success "a**-backwards," explaining that he "never had a publicity agent," "never pushed at this business," and "seldom wanted to audition." Even the awards and the applause meant little to the actor. According to his wife, Daniels is actually quite "shy." This coyness was on full display in a story Daniels told BuzzFeed about a time he was confronted with a bus full of young fans.

"They came out of the bus as I passed them going down Eighth Avenue, and they started yelling, 'Feeny! Feeny!'" he recalled. "Well, the brave one that I am, I ran around the block just to get away from them. There was a whole bus of them yelling 'Feeny!' while coming after me — a bus load! I just ran."

The 2000s were a challenge

In between Boy Meets World finishing its run and Girl Meets World beginning, fans of Daniels saw him appear in very few recurring roles. In fact, until he was cast in a five-episode arc for Grey's Anatomy in 2012, the vast majority of Daniels' work was in single-episode guest appearances in different shows. According to the Huffington Post, during this time, "there were no roles available for a character actor like Daniels."

But this lull in high-profile acting gigs should not (and does not) diminish Daniels' legacy. Truthfully, Daniels has never measured his success by how many recognizable roles he's played. "Although I've had a long career," he writes in his book, "it irks me that some people in show business don't equate that longevity with success. For that crowd only stardom equals success."

It's possible, however, that Daniels wasn't willing to take on recurring roles. He may be at a point in his career where a long-term commitment is undesirable. How the five-episode arc on Grey's Anatomy lured in Daniels is unknown, but perhaps that show holds a cachet that few others could compete with. The role may also have provided Daniels with a chance to relive some of his glory days, allowing him to play a doctor on primetime television once more as he did on St. Elsewhere all those years ago.

Feeny for president

In 1999, as his time playing Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World was drawing to a close, Daniels was called into a meeting with a group from the Performance Alliance. According to Daniels, this group asked him for help locating a worthy candidate to run for president of the Screen Actors Guild, someone with a certain "name value."

While Daniels racked his brain for someone qualified and capable, the issues that the Screen Actors Guild were facing were tabled. This is when, according to his interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Daniels "suddenly found [him]self saying, 'Well, how about me?'" Well, it turns out that he was right for the job. As per Daniels' member page via SAG-AFTRA, "He ran against incumbent Guild, two-term president Richard Masur, and won, becoming only the fourth challenger in Guild history to do so."

After his successful two-year term, Daniels and his wife, Bartlett, accepted three-year seats on the Board of Directors.

He's selective with his screentime

At his age, William Daniels is perhaps more selective with roles than he ever has been, which is saying quite a lot. After all, throughout his career, Daniels needed quite a bit of prodding to accept jobs, even when it came to his most iconic roles. For instance, he nearly turned down the role of Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World because he didn't want to "make fun of" teachers, he initially didn't want to do voice acting for Knight Rider, and he needed convincing from his wife for many other gigs.

At this point in his career, with such a legacy behind him, Daniels' selectiveness is likely at an all-time high. Only time will tell if he returns to the screen or the stage at all, but fans shouldn't expect to see him again unless the role is too good to pass up … for him or his wife, Bartlett.