When MacGyver producers were faced with Dana Elcar’s impending blindness they drew what seemed like the only logical, albeit tough, conclusion – to end the Pete Thornton role.
Dana had been on medication for glaucoma for some time, but after accidentally leaving his medication at home while on a boat trip during season hiatus his sight started to fade to the point that he could no longer read scripts or recognize people unless they were inches in front of him. Executive Producer Stephen Downing was faced with what seemed like an impossible situation. How could Dana continue in the role if he can’t see? Stephen was forced to make the tough decision that they would have to drop the Pete Thornton character from the show.
However, once Richard Dean Anderson heard of his friend’s fate he told the producers the next day: “Dana is a vital character in our series. You can’t just throw him out, now that he really needs help. I won’t go along with that.” Richard then suggested, “Can’t we just incorporate Dana’s disease into the series?” The producers thought it over and agreed to the idea. Dana continued playing a blind Pete Thornton until the end of the series with help from a personal assistant who guided Dana around the sets and stages as well as read the scripts to him so he could learn his lines.
Richard was glad to have been able to help his friend in a time of need. “Seeing Dana’s shining eyes when I gave him the good news made my day.”
Source: Gong magazine. April 20, 1991 (transcript available at rdanderson.com)