But his conscientious objector status during World War II caused outrage throughout America, until he volunteered with the Medical Corps, serving in the Pacific and in New Guinea. In 1948 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Johnny Belinda, but his career was sparse after the war. He was offered the part of Doctor Kildare in a television series, but his request that the show would not have cigarette ads torpedoed that.
His 1976 documentary film Altars of the World brought his Eastern philosophical beliefs to the screen and earned him critical acclaim.
Ayres has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Blvd.