Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Whatever Happened To The Cast Of Diff'rent Strokes?

"Diff'rent Strokes," which aired on NBC and (briefly) ABC from 1978-1986, is best remembered today for a handful of diverse reasons: the popularity of its star, child actor Gary Coleman, and the enduring catch phrase ("Whatchu talkin' bout, Willis?") of his character, Arnold Jackson, as well as the series' well-intentioned if often heavy-handed "special episodes," which addressed a host of serious issues, from eating disorders to child sexual abuse and bullying. The precipitous career decline of its three youthful leads — Coleman, Todd Bridges (as Arnold's brother, Willis), and Dana Plato (as their adoptive sister, Kimberly) — has also kept the show in the annals of pop culture.

These factors have somewhat obscured the chief selling point of the series: it was, for the most part, a light-hearted comedy buoyed by an appealing cast, many of whom belied what's been called the "curse of 'Diff'rent Strokes'," enjoying substantial careers even after its cancellation. With the news that "Diff'rent Strokes" will enjoy a one-time TV reboot with a live TV special featuring Kevin Hart as Arnold and Damon Wayans as Willis, it's a good time to look back at the cast of the TV classic "Diff'rent Strokes" and follow their post-sitcom lives and careers.

Gary Coleman's fame proved short-lived and painful

Gary Coleman overcame considerable health problems as a child — congenital kidney disease contributed to his relatively short stature (4'8") and remained a constant problem throughout his life — to enjoy a run as one of the most popular stars on television, playing Arnold Jackson on "Diff'rent Strokes." Coleman possessed grown-up comic timing, and loads of charisma that endeared him to audiences throughout the series' nine-season run. However, Coleman found that his "Strokes" fame did not translate to a lasting career — or happiness — once the series ran its course in 1986.

Coleman did enjoy stardom outside of "Strokes" for a few years — he starred in a handful of moderately popular films, including "On the Right Track" in 1981 and "Jimmy the Kid" in 1982, and provided a voice for his own animated series, "The Gary Coleman Show," in 1982. But financial troubles, due in part to his adopted parents' alleged misappropriation of funds, led to bankruptcies in the 1990s; he also found himself in legal trouble during this period, which helped fuel tabloid headlines detailing his misfortunes along with those endured by co-stars Todd Bridges and Dana Plato.

He remained in the public eye through the 2000s via appearances in low-budget projects and a run for California governor during that state's recall election in 2003. His final film appearance was in a 2009 low-budget film called "Midgets vs. Mascots," which cast him alongside Ron Jeremy. A brain hemorrhage in 2010 led to his death at the age of 42 on May 28 of that year.

Conrad Bain was adoptive dad Philip Drummond

Canadian actor Conrad Bain had enjoyed a lengthy run on Norman Lear's groundbreaking sitcom "Maude" before stepping into the spotlight for his own series. He was given input into the script and casting of the series, which partnered his wealthy businessman, Philip Drummond, with up-and-coming child actors Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as his newly-adopted sons. "Diff'rent Strokes" was a ratings success for multiple seasons, and made Bain a familiar face to TV viewers to generations of viewers.

Bain, who had begun his career on stage in his native Canada and later on Broadway, also appeared in various film and television projects, including the cult TV series "Dark Shadows" and features including "Coogan's Bluff" with Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen's "Bananas." When "Strokes" ended in 1986, Bain amassed a handful of credits, including the short-lived sitcom "Mr. President" and Mike Nichols' film adaptation of Carrie Fisher's novel "Postcards from the Edge." In 1996, he reprised Drummond opposite Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold and Willis for the finale of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."

Bain died of complications from a stroke at the age of 89 on January 14, 2013.

Todd Bridges rebounded after many challenges

Todd Bridges had amassed an impressive list of TV credits, including the landmark miniseries "Roots" and the "Barney Miller" spin-off "Fish," before vaulting to fame as Willis Jackson, Arnold's older brother, on "Diff'rent Strokes." The popularity of the series led to guest shots on other series, including appearances as Willis on the "Strokes" spin-off "The Facts of Life," but not lasting fame. Bridges also struggled with substance abuse issues that, like his friend and co-star Dana Plato, upended his life and put him in legal jeopardy on several occasions.

Bridges gained sobriety in 1993 and has since remained on camera in various capacities. He enjoyed a recurring role as a military vet who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder on "Everybody Hates Chris," and appeared in numerous celebrity-related reality competitions, including "Skating with Celebrities" and "Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling." He remains active in independent productions and, following the death of co-star Charlotte Rae in 2018, is the last surviving original cast member of "Diff'rent Strokes."

Dana Plato's fall from fame was tragic

Dana Plato was Philip Drummond's only biological child, Kimberly, on Seasons 1 through 6 of "Diff'rent Strokes." An upbeat teen and stepsister to Arnold and Willis, Kimberly's role was largely relegated to straight man/support duty, though she did get a few opportunities to serve as the focus of the occasional episode. Most of these were of the "special episode" variety: in Season 6's two-parter, "The Hitchhikers," she and Arnold are kidnapped when they thumb a ride from a lunatic, and Plato's final appearance on the series was in Season 8's "Bulimia," which involved her struggle with the eating disorder.

Plato began her career in commercials before landing roles on television and in features like "California Suite." Her turn as Kimberly on "Diff'rent Strokes" thrust her into the spotlight, but also turned up the wattage on her personal problems. Like co-star Todd Bridges, she struggled with drug and alcohol use while on the series, which she left in 1984 after she became pregnant. She lost custody of her son in a subsequent custody battle with her ex-husband, and discovered that an accountant had made off with the majority of her earnings.

She supported herself through B-movies and the controversial video game "Night Trap," as well as an appearance in "Playboy." But her troubles continued to mount: high-profile arrests for armed robbery and prescription drug forgery further torpedoed attempts to restart her career. On May 8, 1999, the 34-year-old Plato was found dead of a drug overdose that was later ruled a suicide.

Charlotte Rae followed Diff'rent Strokes with Facts of Life

Longtime fans of "Diff'rent Strokes" may have noted that the Drummonds had a hard time holding on to household staff. Their first of three subsequent housekeepers was Edna Garrett, played by veteran actress Charlotte Rae. Garrett left the Drummonds in the middle of Season 2 to take a new job as the housemother at a private all-girls school in New York. That series — "The Facts of Life" — ran for nine seasons, surpassing the eight-year run enjoyed by "Strokes."

Rae was a familiar face to television audiences since the 1950s, thanks in part to roles in comedies like "Car 54, Where Are You?," "The Partridge Family," and her Emmy-nominated role in the 1975 TV movie "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom." Her role on "Facts of Life" raised her profile considerably, but she left the show in Season 7 to return to the theater. Rae remained a regular presence on television thanks to recurring roles on series like "Sisters" and voice-over work for Disney animated series. In 2001, she joined several of her "Facts" co-stars for "The Facts of Life Reunion."

Rae, who continued to work into her eighth decade — most notably in features like "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" and "Ricki and The Flash" — died following a series of illnesses at the age of 92 on August 5, 2018.

Dixie Carter lasted two seasons as Drummond's wife, Maggie

The cast of series regulars on "Diff'rent Strokes" grew by two in Season 6 with the addition of Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey. Carter played TV aerobics host Maggie McKinney, who married Philip Drummond in the aptly titled "Drummond's Wedding," while Cooksey was her son, Sam. The union proved short-lived — at least with Carter, who left "Strokes" in Season 8. She was briefly replaced by Mary Ann Mobley before the show itself was sent packing by its new network, ABC, which had picked up "Strokes" in the spring of 1985 only to cancel it the following year.

Carter, who ruefully told the "Charlotte Observer" in 1986 that she had taken the "Strokes" role largely for the paycheck, was a stage and TV veteran whose small screen work included stints on various daytime soaps, as well as primetime programs like "The Greatest American Hero" and "Lou Grant." She rose to greater fame after "Strokes" as the star of "Designing Women," which led to starring roles on Broadway and an Emmy-nominated run on "Desperate Housewives" as Gloria Hodge, the manipulative mother-in-law of Marcia Cross's Bree Van de Kamp.

On April 10, 2010, Carter — who has been married to third husband and Emmy-winning actor Hal Holbrook since 1984 — died of complications from cancer at the age of 70.

Mary Jo Catlett was the Drummond's third housekeeper, Pearl

Broadway and TV veteran Mary Jo Catlett made her debut as the Drummond's third housekeeper, Pearl Gallagher, on Season 5's "In the Swim," and remained a part of the main cast until the series' conclusion in 1986. The role was her second stint as a TV series regular; Catlett had recently emerged from a short-lived TV version of the Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn comedy "Foul Play," and was working steadily as a recurring guest star on series like "M*A*S*H" before signing on with "Strokes."

Catlett remained exceptionally busy in the years following "Diff'rent Strokes." She netted a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for a run on "General Hospital," and an Ovation Award nomination for her turn in a Los Angeles production of "Beauty and the Beast" in 1995. Catlett has also been a prolific voice-over actor for series like "Rugrats" and "Kim Possible," though she was best known in animation circles as the voice of Mrs. Puff on "SpongeBob SquarePants," as well as many of its related game and spin-off projects.

Catlett continues to work, both in animation and live-action projects as well; recent credits include a two-episode arc on "Good Girls" and single appearances on "Modern Family," "2 Broke Girls" and "Bajillion Dollar Propertie$."

Danny Cooksey added to the cute kid factor on Strokes

Danny Cooksey's pint-sized Sam McKinney was introduced to the Drummond household at the end of Season 6. The son of Dixie Carter's Maggie McKinney — soon to be Mrs. Drummond — Sam was an eager sidekick and straight man for Arnold, though as with Shavar Ross, who played Dudley (another Arnold second banana), he earned his own storyline on occasion. Like Dudley, some of these were "very special episodes," most notably Season 8's "Sam's Missing," in which he was kidnapped by a grief-stricken couple.

Cooksey began acting on television in the early 1980s and vaulted to modest stardom with his two-year run on "Diff'rent Strokes." After the show's cancellation, he co-starred as camp bully Bobby Budnick on the Nickelodeon series "Salute Your Shorts" and appeared as Edward Furlong's friend in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" in 1991. He also voiced numerous characters for animated series and films, including "Tiny Toon Adventures," "The Ren and Stimpy Show," "Static Shock," and "Regular Show." Cooksey has fronted several bands, including Bad4Good and the country band Shelter Dogs.

Shavar Ross's Dudley had Arnold's back

Arnold's best friend on the series was Dudley Johnson, a fellow adoptee who shared his pal's talent for getting into scrapes. On occasion, Dudley stepped out of his sidekick role and shared the spotlight: in Season 6's "Assert Yourself," he finds himself pitted against Arnold in a bid for class president, and he falls victim to Gordon Jump's sexual abuser in the infamous Season 5 two-parter "The Bicycle Man."

Shavar Ross played Dudley in 43 episodes of "Diff'rent Strokes"; the role came in the midst of an exceptionally busy period in his career as a child actor, which included guest shots on "Alice," "The Love Boat," and other live-action series, as well as voices for numerous animated shows. His run as Dudley ended with the series' conclusion in 1986, but Ross continued to land guest appearances on series, including a recurring run on "Family Matters," and occasional roles in features like "Friday the 13th: A New Beginning" (as "Reggie the Reckless"). He transitioned to the ministry in the late 1990s and later opened his own production company, for which he produced and directed several faith-based film shorts.

Ubiquitous TV senior Nedra Volz was Drummond housekeeper #2

When Edna Garrett left the Drummond household in Season 2 to take a housemother role at the Eastland School, she was replaced by Adelaide Brubaker, a diminuitive grandmother type who at first blush, seemed far too advanced in years — and reduced in size ± to serve as an effective housekeeper r keep up with the Drummond family hijinks. However, what Adelaide lacked in stature, she more than made up for in feistiness, especially in verbal repartee with Arnold, the show's reigning quipster.

Nedra Volz was past retirement age when she took on the role of Adelaide, which she played from Seasons 2 through 4. A former child performer and singer herself, she launched her acting career in the early 1970s and found steady work in light comedy roles. Producer Norman Lear boosted her profile through guest shots on his series, including "Good Times," "One Day at a Time," and "All in the Family" (as Edith's unpleasant Aunt Lola). Her run on "Diff'rent Strokes" coincided with a recurring role as Hazzard County postmaster Emma Tisdale on "The Dukes of Hazzard," and guest roles on series like "Hart to Hart."

Volz departed "Strokes" in 1984 to resume her busy schedule of TV guest roles and occasional features. Recurring roles on multiple series, including "ALF," "The Fall Guy" and "Super Mario Bros. Super Show" kept her busy into the early 1990s; Volz capped her career with a pair of appearances on "Step By Step" in 1993 and 1994. Volz died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 94 on January 20, 2003.

Mary Ann Mobley took over as Mrs. Drummond

"Diff'rent Strokes" viewers noticed something very, well, different when the show returned for Season 8 in 1985: Dixie Carter had been replaced by actress Mary Ann Mobley in the role of Maggie McKinney Drummond. Mobley, who had appeared as another love interest for Mr. Drummond in Season 2's "Teacher's Pet," took over the role for the remainder of the series. According to a 1985 feature on Mobley in the "Durant Daily Democrat," Mobley was among the actresses initially considered to play Maggie when the character debuted in Season 6, but had been passed over because she appeared far younger than Conrad Bain.

Mobley, who was crowned Miss America in 1959, went on to a long career as an actor in films and on television and Broadway. Among her earliest screen roles were two co-starring turns opposite Elvis Presley (in 1965's "Girl Happy" and "Harum Scarum"). After sharing the 1965 Golden Globe for New Star of the Year with Mia Farrow, Mobley met her husband, actor and television personality Gary Collins, on the set of the 1966 Jerry Lewis comedy "Three on a Couch"; the couple remained married until Collins' death in 2012. She maintained a steady presence on episodic TV from the 1970s through the 1990s; Mobley, who was treated for breast cancer in 2009, died from the disease at the age of 77 on December 9, 2014.

Jason Hervey played another of Arnold's school friends

Season 8 added Jason Hervey as Charlie, one of Arnold's classmates, to his circle of friends. The expanded quartet — which also featured longtime sidekicks Dudley and Robbie (played by Steve Mond) — were featured in nine episodes until Season 8's "The Photo Club," which marked the end of Hervey's run on the series.

For Hervey, who had been acting on television since the late '70s, "Diff'rent Strokes" was a brief pit stop before greater acclaim. He landed roles in "The Monster Squad" and the Rodney Dangerfield comedy "Back to School" before earning the part that would largely define his acting career: aggravating big brother Wayne Arnold on "The Wonder Years." When the show wrapped in 1993, Hervey moved into producing, which included a stint as executive producer for World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

Hervey later teamed with WCW vice president Eric Bischoff to launch Bischoff-Hervey Productions, which specialized in reality series like "I Want to Be a Hilton" and "Hardcore Pawn: Chicago," and the online gaming company MX Digital. He returned to acting in 2021 with the Hallmark Channel feature "You, Me, & the Christmas Trees," which starred his "Wonder Years" castmate, Danica McKellar.

Rosalind Chao schooled Arnold as Miss Chung

Rosalind Chao played Arnold's teacher, Miss Chung, in seven episodes during Seasons 4 and 5 on "Diff'rent Strokes." Chao, who had previously appeared in Season 3's "Almost American" as an immigrant hoping to gain American citizenship, logged time in one of the series' most memorable episodes: "The Reporter," in which Arnold's discovery of drugs at his school somehow brings then-First Lady Nancy Reagan into the episode to pitch her "Say No to Drugs" campaign.

A regular on episodic television and in features for five decades, Chao is perhaps best known to small screen audiences as Soon-Lee Klinger, wife of Jamie Farr's Corporal Klinger, in the finale of "M*A*S*H" and its short-lived follow-up series, "AfterM*A*S*H," as well as botanist Keiko O'Brien on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine." More recently, she's appeared on episodes of "Hawaii Five-O," "Better Things," and "The First Lady."

Chao's feature film credits range from Jackie Chan's American feature film debut, "The Big Brawl" to "The Joy Luck Club" and Stephen Soderbergh's "The Laundromat." In 2020, she played Mulan's mother in the Disney live-action version of "Mulan," and co-starred with Melissa McCarthy the following year in "The Starling."

Before she was a pop icon, Janet Jackson was Willis's girlfriend

Before Janet Jackson became one of the most popular music artists of the '90s and 2000s, she was a hard-working actor on various television series. She made her debut in the fifth season of "Good Time" as Penny, a young girl adopted by Ja'Net DuBois Willona. A brief run on the ABC series "A New Kind of Family" followed before she was cast as Willis's girlfriend, Charlene, in Season 3 of "Diff'rent Strokes." Their relationship was full of typical teenage ups-and-downs, including plenty of break-ups and make-ups over the course of her 10 appearances on the series, which ended with the Season 6 episode "The Houseguest," which saw Charlene briefly move in with the Drummonds after a fight with her father.

After "Strokes" and a brief run on "Fame," Jackson decided to focus on a career in music, which was spectacularly successful for many years. Over the course of her three decades in music, she has sold over 100 million records, and holds the record for most consecutive Top 10 singles (18) on the "Billboard" Hot 100. Jackson has also netted five Grammy Awards, and in 2019 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has returned to acting on several occasions, most notably in the hit films "Poetic Justice," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," and "Why Did I Get Married?"