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What The Cast Of A Different World Looks Like Today

Given the massive cultural footprint The Cosby Show made over the course of its eight seasonsa spin-off was a no-brainer. Few, however, could have predicted the way A Different World would take on a life of its own over the course of its six-season run on NBC. Originally conceived of as the continuing adventures of Huxtable child Denise, the show would grow and evolve in its second season and beyond. It was hailed for its unique look at student life at historically black colleges and universities, as well as its willingness to tackle thorny social and political issues facing young people in the late '80s and early '90s.

Much of this growth is credited to showrunner Debbie Allen, herself an alumna of Howard University, who took over A Different World's creative direction in its second season. While Allen's hand definitely made a huge difference, much of the show's popularity was thanks to its intensely charismatic cast, who managed to be both hilarious and capable of real dramatic depth. It's no surprise so many of them have gone on to long and interesting careers after graduating from A Different World. Here's where they are today, and how they got there.

Lisa Bonet

Lisa Bonet played Denise Huxtable, daughter of the central family on The Cosby Show. When the character graduated high school, she was spun off into her own show, leaving Brooklyn for Hillman College in Virginia. Denise spent the first season of A Different World navigating the trials and tribulations faced by many college freshmen, including making new friends, dealing with romantic entanglements, and, most prominently, struggling to maintain her grades.

Bonet's time on the show would be fleeting, as a pregnancy led to her departure after just one season. She briefly returned to The Cosby Show, but "creative differences" arose, and she parted ways with it once and for all in 1991. From there, she embarked on a complex career, with notable roles in films like 2000's High Fidelity and on TV shows like Life on Mars and Ray Donovan. She's also been fairly famous for her personal life, first marrying rock star Lenny Kravitz, and later partnering with Game of Thrones and Aquaman hunk Jason Momoa. In an interesting bit of synergy, her daughter with Kravitz, Zoe, plays the lead in Hulu's series adaptation of High Fidelity.

Marisa Tomei

Originally, A Different World was conceived as show about a white girl's experience attending an HBCU. It was retooled, making Denise Huxtable the lead and her best friend Maggie Lauten the fish-out-of-water white girl. Cast in that role was a young actress who would go on to become a household name: Marisa Tomei. A military brat, Maggie was one of Denise Huxtable's roommates, as well as a journalism major involved in a long-distance relationship. Allen wanted Tomei to continue on the show in season two, but the actress decided, instead, to depart, and Maggie quietly disappeared from the cast of characters.

Tomei, however, went on to bigger things. Four years after leaving A Different World, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her hilarious turn in My Cousin Vinny, kicking off a film career that spans three decades. She was nominated for two more Oscars, for 2001's In the Bedroom and 2007's The Wrestler, and has plied her craft successfully in both comedies and dramas. She returned to TV in 2007 on the Denis Leary-led series Rescue Me, and also had a notable role on Empire. She's even worked her way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Aunt May to Tom Holland's take on Spider-Man.

Jasmine Guy

Season one of A Different World acquainted us with Whitley Gilbert, a snobby Hillman student whose stuck-up attitude was often played for laughs, in contrast to her more down-to-Earth classmates. The character, however, proved popular, and when Bonet left the show, Whitley was moved into a central role. Her personality was also mellowed and given added depth, and her opposites-attract romance with the nerdy Dwayne Wayne became one of the series' central arcs. Whitley remained involved with Hillman as a dorm director even after graduating, and ended the series married to Dwayne Wayne and carrying the couple's first child.

Jasmine Guy was awarded multiple NAACP Image Awards for her portrayal of Whitley. This success lead Guy to a long and active career as an actor, dancer, and choreographer, as well as a director of stage productions. She's remained very active on TV, showing up on '90s staples like Melrose Place and NYPD Blue before landing a lead role on Showtime's Dead Like Me in the early aughts. More recently, she's had recurring parts on The Vampire Diaries and the Disney Channel's K.C. Undercover.

Kadeem Hardison

With his trademark flip-up sunglasses, nerdy charisma, and rhyming name, Dwayne Wayne seemed destined for pop culture resonance from his first appearance on A Different World. The character started out in a supporting capacity but became central to the show in season two, fueled largely by his on-again, off-again romance with Whitley. As the years went on, he lived in Japan, became a math professor, and, in the end, staged a grand gesture to win the love of his life. The character was praised in the press and remains fondly remembered.

Kadeem Hardison's performance as Dwayne Wayne made him one of A Different World's breakout stars, and the actor has gone on to a long and incredibly prolific career in film and television. Listing all his credits would require more space than one article allows, as he's appeared in literally dozens of movies between 1992 and the present day, not to mention scores of TV spots. He's most recently reunited with Jasmine Guy in the cast of K.C. Undercover, appeared in the film Paddleton, and plays a starring role in the Showtime series Black Monday. With projects like the upcoming film Playing With Beethoven already in the pipeline, it's safe to say we'll be seeing plenty more of Kadeem Hardison in the future.

Darryl M. Bell

As funny as Dwayne Wayne was, he had too much heart and leading man charm to serve as A Different World's classic fool. Fortunately, Ron Johnson was ready and willing to leap into that archetypal gap. A ROTC student and Waynes' best friend, Ron fancies himself a ladies' man and is always up for a get-rich-quick scheme. He might not have been the most serious student, but he comes out okay as a manager and co-owner of his own nightclub. Despite primarily serving a comic role, he did experience his share of drama, coping with a bias incident and navigating romantic travails with fellow Hillman students Kimberly Reese and Freddie Brooks.

Darryl M. Bell, who played Ron, jumped right back into sitcom work when A Different World ended, booking a lead role on the UPN's sci-fi comedy series, Homeboys in Outer Space. Unfortunately, the show was a critical flop, and was canceled by the network after one season. Bell bounced back with a three-episode run on The Cosby Show follow-up Cosby, but subsequently moved away from acting on a regular basis. He remained connected to the industry, however, through his friendship with Hardison, who cast Bell in his 2013 film The Dark Party, and his long-term relationship with Cosby Show alum Tempestt Bledsoe, with whom he'd appear in the 2009 reality show Househusbands of Hollywood.

Charnele Brown

With Whitley thrust to the fore in A Different World's second season, there was a need to expand the cast of supporting characters. Thus, we were introduced to Kimberly Reese, Whitley's roommate and eventual best friend. A biology major, she was employed at campus eatery The Pit, and also performed in the band X-Pression, managed by Ron. Kimberly was the center of a couple of the show's more serious arcs, facing a false alarm pregnancy and choosing to give up a much-needed scholarship due to the sponsoring corporation's ties to apartheid-era South Africa. After graduation, she enrolled in medical school and found love with a fellow student there.

Kimberly was portrayed by Charnele Brown, who came to A Different World from a Broadway stage career. After the show ended, she did spot work on TV, showing up in episodes of Martin and Living Single. She's also worked as a singer and a fashion designer, and the past decade has seen her enter into the world of film production. Brown is set to appear in an upcoming episode of 5th Ward, as well as a wide variety of other roles currently in production.

Dawnn Lewis

Most of the Hillman students on A Different World were your typical college kids ... except for Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor. At 25, having enrolled after a failed marriage, she brought a level of maturity to the proceedings that provided a contrast with some of her more fresh-faced classmates. A business management major, she worked part-time at the Hillman library and as the assistant dorm director of Gilbert Hall. One of her central plot lines saw her in a relationship with coach Walter Oakes, but that would end with the two calling things off at the altar. Jaleesa ended up starting her own temp agency and marrying Colonel Bradford Taylor.

Jaleesa was played by Dawnn Lewis, who brought more to the show than her acting chops. An accomplished singer, she also co-wrote the show's theme song, a feat she would repeat with a little help from R&B group En Vouge for her next gig, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper. Her resume is stuffed with roles in films like Dreamgirls and a metric ton of television work. In particular, Lewis found a lucrative avenue in voice work, lending her talents to everything from Futurama and Spider-Man: The Animated Series to King of the Hill and The Simpsons. Most recently, you might have caught her in a pair of reboots: As Marcia Langdon on the 2019 return of Veronica Mars, and as the voice of the Chief in Netflix's animated take on Carmen Sandiego.

Cree Summer

For many young people, the college years are about social consciousness and political activism. Such was the case with Freddie Brooks, who arrived in the season two premiere as Jaleela's roommate. A free spirit whose mother was a '60s hippie, Freddie became a student activist during her time at Hillman, advocating for a number of different environmental, community, and charitable causes. That's not to say she didn't have time for personal matters, though, as she spent her early time at school pining after Dwayne Wayne, only to eventually end up in a relationship with Ron. Freddie ended the series completing her first year in law school.

Cree Summer, who played Freddie, didn't go on to the fullest live-action career, appearing in only a handful of films and TV shows per decade. Her voice-acting resume, however, is straight-up staggering. She was already established in the business prior to A Different World, having originated the voice of Penny on Inspector Gadget. After the series wrapped up, she continued down that avenue, contributing her vocal talents to all kinds of classic shows: Captain Planet, Gargoyles, Superman: The Animated Series, Kim Possible, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Rugrats, just to name a few. Frankly, if you have enjoyed animation at all in the last couple of decades, you have enjoyed Summer's work — she is one of the most important and influential voice actors of the modern era.

Lou Myers

Every show about an entertaining group of young people needs a place for all of them to hang out. For the students of Hillman, that place was The Pit, an on-campus restaurant. Heading up this operation was Vernon Gaines, an ex-military man whose grumpy demeanor and avowed dislike of children led to a lot of haranguing of the main cast. Still, he employed many of them over the years, and was shown to have his compassionate side in between taking verbal jabs at the likes of Dwayne Wayne.

A Different World was Lou Myers' last recurring TV role until he played Charlie across six episodes of the 2003 series All About the Andersons. Regardless, he worked steadily, showing up on shows like The Sentinel, The Jamie Foxx Show, JAG, and ER. On film, he could be seen in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Wedding Planner, and The Fighting Temptations, among others. Much of Myers' best work, however, was done on the stage. He performed on Broadway in The Color Purple and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and was awarded the NAACP Image Award for his part in August Wilson's King Hedley II. He was also an accomplished pianist. Sadly, Myers passed away in 2013 due to complications from pneumonia.

Glynn Turman

Introduced in season two, Lieutenant Colonel Bradford Taylor started out as a recurring character, but eventually moved up to become part of the main cast. A career military man and veteran of the Vietnam War, he had previously served in the same unit as Pit proprietor Vernon Gaines, and remained martially-minded enough that the students nicknamed him "Doctor War." At Hillman, he headed up the ROTC unit that included Ron Johnson, and worked as a professor of mathematics, leading to his crossing paths with Dwayne Wayne. Eventually, he ended up marrying, and fathering a child with, Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor.

Colonel Taylor was played by Glynn Turman, who had already been acting in film and TV for over 25 years before arriving on A Different World. He remained very active after the show wrapped — if you've watched TV or seen a movie in the past 30 years, you've likely caught one of his performances. Notable recent efforts include The Wire, in which he played Baltimore mayor Clarence Royce, J.J. Abrams' 2011 film Super 8, Shonda Rhimes' thriller series How to Get Away With Murder, and the Stephen King adaptation Mr. Mercedes.


Not many people at the college level could manage coaching the football, basketball, baseball, and track programs, but then, not many people are Walter Oakes. This colorful character was another recurring personality that eventually became a part of the main cast. A graduate student, he was a mentor to some of the younger characters and a peer to the more mature Jaleesa, with whom he would embark on a long and winding romantic relationship. Walter would ultimately depart Hillman to return to his hometown of Philadelphia and manage a community center.

While David Adkins, better known as Sinbad, was a relatively unknown stand-up comedian at the time he was cast on A Different World, the show would serve as his launching pad to a prolific career. First, he crushed it in comedy, recording a series of successful specials for HBO. For two years, he served as the host of the venerable variety and talent show It's Showtime at the Apollo. From there, he was given the opportunity to head up his own sitcom as the star of The Sinbad Show, which, unfortunately, only lasted a single season. That didn't serve to diminish Sinbad's momentum, however, and the actor has appeared in numerous films and shows since, as well as occasionally working as himself in such capacities as serving as a spokesperson for Apple products. You'll also recognize his voice as that of Mr. Smiley on Steven Universe, and as Milton, the titular character's father on Rel.

Jada Pinkett Smith

Lena James wasn't exactly the highest-profile character on A Different World. As part of the recurring, rather than main, cast, she served a supporting role over the last two seasons of the show. An engineering major who would later switch to journalism, she worked part-time at The Pit and briefly pursued a romantic interest in Dwayne Wayne before embarking on a serious relationship with Hillman basketball star Dorian Heywood.

So, why highlight Lena among A Different World's expansive supporting cast? It's because she was played by none other than Jada Pinkett Smith, who needs no introduction. After graduating from the show, she appeared in the acclaimed Hughes Brothers film Menace II Society, kicking off an acting career that has spanned four decades. In the '90s, she starred alongside Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor and faced Scream 2's murderous mayhem. In the aughts, she played Niobe in the second two films in the Matrix franchise and voiced the hippopotamus Gloria in the hit animated film franchise, Madagascar. In the teens, she appeared in Magic Mike XXL, played gangster Fish Mooney on Gothamand starred in the wildly successful Girls Trip. Along the way, she also married superstar Will Smith, forming one of Hollywood's highest-profile power couples. Oh, and she also sings in the metal band Wicked Wisdom. The '20s will see her return once again to the Wachowskis' dystopian future in the as-yet untitled fourth Matrix movie.