“Diff’rent Strokes” was an American television show that aired on the NBC network from 1978-85. It also aired on the ABC network from 1985-86. The show is infamous for the “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” catch phrase said by Arnold Jackson, played by Gary Coleman.
The show also starred Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson, Conrad Bain as Phillip Drummond, and Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond. Charlotte Rae played Mrs. Garrett the housekeeper. The show stood on its own, breaking the mold of the typical American family that was usually portrayed on television during the time, and warmed the hearts of loyal viewers for years.
The Beautiful Dana Plato
Dana Plato played the fun, blonde Kimberly Drummond, daughter of Phillip Drummond. She was adopted by parents Dean and Kay Plato and raised in the San Fernando Valley. At the age of 7, Dana was appearing in commercials, films, and television shows. Unfortunately, the rest of Dana’s career did not go so well. More on that later!
Gary Coleman played Arnold Jackson in “Diff’rent Strokes” and was one of the funniest youngsters on the set. Coleman began his career in a Harris Bank commercial and from there he began to get noticed. Did you know a character likeness of Gary was featured in the musical “Avenue Q? It was a hilarious caricature that is definitely worth checking out.
Todd Bridges played the older brother, Arnold Jackson. He was born on May 27th, 1965 into a talented family of actors. He had two siblings that were actors named Jimmy and Verda. He parents, James and Betty were also actors. You can clearly see where he got his chops from and that great smile!
Conrad Bain played the silver-haired father figure to Arnold and Willis, who was also Kimberly’s biological Dad in the series. He always had something nice to say to the boys but kept them disciplined to the best of his ability. Did you know that Bain starred on Broadway? He was in many shows on and off Broadway and played a role in many films in New York City.
“Diff’rent Strokes” Theme Song
The theme song to the popular sitcom was written by Alan Thicke (pop star Robin Thicke’s Dad and “Growing Pains” star Jason Seaver). The music to the theme song was composed by Thicke’s mother, Gloria Loring, and composer Al Burton. This tune easily gets stuck in your head – much like other 80’s television show tunes. Alan Thicke also sang the words to the “Diff’rent” Strokes” theme.
More On Gary Coleman
Gary Coleman was making $80,000 per episode. And earned over $7 million during the lifetime of the series. In addition, he got $1 million a year (this is when the show went into syndication). You may or may not be aware that he won a suit against his parents for $750,000. That’s a large suit!
Todd Bridges’ Luck
Todd Bridges got the role of Willis by luck, without even having to audition. The show’s producers knew him from the Abe Vigoda series titled “Fish.” He was married to Dori Bridges from 1998 to 2012 and is from San Francisco, CA. Bridges was lucky enough to play the role of Willis for eight years, which he enjoyed very much. He seemed to really bond with the other actors on the set.
More on Dana Plato
Dana Plato was spotted by “Different Strokes” producers who saw her on “The Gong Show.” Plato was on the show from 1978 to 1986. She achieved instant stardom with her role of Kimberly on the show. Plato was born on November 7th, 1964, and grew up in California.
More on Conrad Bain
Bain appeared in every episode of “Diff’rent Strokes.” Todd Bridges was quoted in “The Hollywood Reporter” as saying that Bain was better to him than his own father. He also said that Bain’s death came as a shock to him and that he really took it hard. “This is probably one of the most heart-wrenching days I have had in a long time,” said Bridges.
Moral of the Story
“Diff’rent Strokes” was known as one sitcom that instilled morals in the viewers of the show. The series aired many special episodes that encouraged kids to “say no to drugs” and other life issues. In other episodes, the producers tackled tough topics like bulimia, rape, and abduction. Very few shows today still believe in the “moral of the story” idea and none did it quite like “Diff’rent Strokes.”
Where Are They Now?
You may be asking yourself “where are these guys and girls now?” Unfortunately, many of the cast have passed on, but here we can look at some of their known accomplishments once “Diff’rent Strokes” went off air.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Actor Gary Coleman was not so lucky after he left “Different Strokes.” He ended up having to sue his parents and his former manager over misappropriation of his trust fund and earnings. He won $100 million from the suit, but had to file for bankruptcy. Coleman suffered from congenital kidney disease from childhood and as a result had continuous health problems. He passed away on May 28th, 2010, from an injury. He was only 42 at the time of his death, according to Wikipedia.
Just Say No To Drugs
Todd Bridges was another actor that had his share of problems. Bridges battled drug addiction for years. He was arrested in February 1998 for an attempted murder of a drug dealer in South Central, Los Angeles, and was acquitted in November 1999. Bridges was once again caught in possession of cocaine, and was also arrested on a concealed weapons charge. But Bridges continued his acting career on the show “Everybody Hates Chris” and toured around the world, sharing his story and telling people not to use drugs.
The Troubled Dana Plato
Dana Plato became pregnant in Season 6 of the show, leaving producers with the option of writing her character out of the script, which is the route they chose to take. She married the father of her child, Lenny Lambert, and sadly fell to drug and alcohol use later in her career. Plato returned to the series to make guest appearances in the final two seasons of the show, but her career did not pick up after she left “Diff’rent Strokes.” She posed for “Playboy” and starred in a film that played on her role in the sitcom. Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999 at the young age of 34-years-old. Sources say her death was ruled a suicide.
Who Can Forget Charlotte Rae?
Charlotte Rae is another surviving member of the cast. Charlotte is best known for her role in “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life,” another comedy of the past. Rae had quite a career as a singer, dancer, and actress on the stage, film, and television. Her successful career has spanned six decades. Thankfully this redheaded jewel of an actress is still around! She is definitely a character to love!
The Maid Did It!
Mary Jo Catlett played the maid named Pearl Gallagher in “Diff’rent Strokes.” She became a series regular and played several roles. She was in “That’s So Raven,” and played the voice of Mrs. Poppy Puff on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” She was also in an episode of “Glee.”
Dixie Carter played Maggie McKinney Drummond, who marries Phillip Drummond in the series. You may remember Carter as Suzanne Sugarbaker on “Designing Women,” of which she won much acclaim. Carter was well-known for this role throughout her career and she was well loved on both shows, but unfortunately died of cancer in the year 2010.
A Sweet Son
The redhead Danny Cooksey played Sam McKinney, the son of Maggie McKinney Drummond in 48 episodes of the show. He also starred on the Nickelodeon show “Salute Your Shorts,” “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and he is in “Kickbuttowski” by Disney films. His wife Amber suffers from epilepsy so the condition is near and dear to his heart. When he is not acting, Cooksey also pursues a career in music.
A Best Friend
Shavar Ross played Arnold’s friend Dudley in the comic series. Arnold and Dudley were best friends and they got into lots of trouble together, often resulting in a reprimanding talk by Arnold’s father. Ross did not act much after “Diff’rent Strokes” but went on to start his own production company. If you rent or watch “Diff’rent Strokes” online then you may see Ross in some of the very special episodes that were designed to teach kids a moral lesson.
The Famous Sister
Janet Jackson played Charlene DuPrey, Willis’s girlfriend on the show. Janet really needs no introduction as Michael Jackson’s little sister, and she has been on the pop music scene for decades. She continues to have a successful career to this day. You may remember her from the show “Good Times” where she played the character of Penny. Janet still acts from time to time along with her music career.
New York, NY
The Drummond family and the boys lived at 900 Park Avenue in New York City. The building still stands today and the place is still actively listed as a livable space on real estate pages. Check out some of the pictures of the space and the pricing. Living here is still not cheap!