Diff’rent Strokes (NBC, 1978 – 1985)
Diff’rent Strokes was an American sitcom that aired on NBC for seven seasons from November 3, 1978 to May 4, 1985. After getting cancelled by NBC, ABC picked up the show for its eighth season, airing from September 27, 1985 to March 7, 1986. In total, Diff’rent Strokes ran for 189 episodes and has been responsible for a lot of things, but not all of them are good.
The show was to be a vehicle for stars Conrad Bain, who was fresh off the TV show Maude and for Gary Coleman, whom show producers discovered from his numerous TV commercials. Bain starred as Phillip Drummond, a white Park Avenue businessman who adopted two black brothers Arnold and Willis (played by Coleman and Todd Bridges) from Harlem. Dana Plato rounded out the cast as Phillip’s daughter Kimberly. Over the years the Drummonds had a revolving housekeeper, the most famous being Mrs. Garrett (played by Charlotte Rae), which was their first housekeeper for seasons 1 and 2 before departing to look after the girls on The Facts of Life, a spin-off.
Thanks to Arnold’s catchphrase, “What-chu talkin bout Willis?” and the cutie that was Gary Coleman, Diff’rent Strokes took the world by storm. When a TV show becomes as popular as Diff’rent Strokes was, it’s sometimes very difficult for actors to step out the shadow of the show and do something different. The child stars of Diff’rent Strokes had a more difficult time than most actors.
During season 5, Plato became pregnant and was written out of the show. (She occasionally came back for guest appearances.) She married in 1984 and got divorced the next year. Her growing drug addictions led to financial difficulties and she relinquished custody of her son to her ex-husband. In 1991, she was arrested for robbing a Las Vegas video store with a pellet gun. In 1992, Plato was arrested for faking prescriptions for Valium. In 1999, Plato died of a drug overdose. Her death was listed as a suicide. She was only 34 years old.
In 1989, Coleman sued his parents and former manager over misappropriation of his trust fund. Unfortunately, despite a million dollar settlement, in 1999, Coleman filed for bankruptcy. In 1998, he was charged with assault after punching a woman in a mall where he worked as a security guard. In May 2010, Coleman, who had health problems all his life from congenital kidney disease, was admitted to a Utah hospital after falling and hitting his head after suffering a seizure. He was placed on life support but died the following day at age 42.
Bridges developed a cocaine addiction. In 1998 he was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a drug dealer at a crack house in South Central Los Angeles. He was acquitted the next year. He was then quickly arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and possession of cocaine. In 1994, he was arrested after ramming a car during an argument. Bridges then went on to become clean and sober. He now travels the U.S. to talk to youth in schools about the dangers of drug use. He has also returned to acting. Bridges is the only surviving member of his TV Drummond family. Bain died in January 2013 of natural causes at age 89.
Below is the pilot episode.