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Whatever Happened To The Cast Of Life Goes On?

Before "Life Goes On" became the name of a hit BTS song, it was a key lyric in the upbeat Paul McCartney penned "White Album" gem, "Ob‐La‐Di, Ob‐La‐Da." The song was licensed by a series created by Michael Braverman that first aired in the fall of 1989, with its cast singing that Beatles track as its theme song, with ABC network's head of drama programming Chad Hoffman explaining: "because that's really what the series was about. How life goes on. How every day we all get up, and try again."

Going up against venerable Sunday institution "60 Minutes" every week, "Life Goes On" may not have been a recipe for a ratings darling, but the Emmy-winning family drama about the Thatcher family made waves by being the very first to have an actor with Down syndrome (Chris Burke) star in a prime time show. It also aimed to bring a larger awareness of the disability, and later the AIDS epidemic, to America and the world round. When the show premiered, Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote, "It would probably be condescending and patronizing to say Burke will steal the nation's heart. But he will."

It's been 29 years since "Life" went on for the cast and crew of the groundbreaking series that ran for four seasons, but "Life" is about to begin again, as a sequel centering on Kellie Martin's Becca is in the works at NBC. The identity of other returning cast members is unknown at this time, but is there a better time than now to ask, whatever happened to the cast of "Life Goes On?"

Bill Smitrovich (Drew Thatcher)

Life moved around a lot for young William Stanley Zmitrowicz Jr. before finding a love for acting at age 24. Professionally known as Bill Smitrovich, the Morris Carnovsky-mentored actor was once the understudy for all 28 roles in Arthur Miller's "The American Clock." TV and film roles soon followed, such as parts in "Splash," the "Miami Vice" pilot, "Manhunter," and "Crime Story."

In 2014 Smitrovich said that "the most gratifying work I've ever done — 'Life Goes On'," as patriarch and budding restaurateur Drew Thatcher (and even directed an episode), adding, "we changed lives and perceptions ... and I've very proud of that." Since then he has supported the Special Olympics, and even had his own golf tournament to support the Down Syndrome Association of L.A.

The warm father figure played a lot of men in uniform thereafter, in "Independence Day," "Thirteen Days," "Air Force One," and "Iron Man," as well as being on the case for "A Nero Wolfe Mystery," "The Practice," and "Without A Trace." He later appeared with Pierce Brosnan in "The November Man," acted in both "Ted" films, and the recent reboots of "Dynasty," "Magnum P.I.," and "MacGyver." No word if he'll be a part of the new "Life Goes On" sequel, but Smitrovich and screen son Chris Burke did reunite for an episode of "Touched By An Angel," and once toyed with the idea of playing private detectives in a movie together. In the meantime, he can Cameo in your life.

Patti LuPone (Libby Thatcher)

"Diva" is a label Patti LuPone has often received, to which she replied, "Let me say I was trained at Juilliard. I have a very high standard. I expect everybody around me to work equally as hard." For over 50 years, LuPone has worked really hard as a star of stage and screen, with two Tonys (1980's "Evita" and 2008's "Gypsy") and Grammys to her credit.

While Broadway has been and continues to be her passion, she has spent plenty of time being filmed, co-starring in "Witness," "LBJ: The Early Years," "Driving Miss Daisy," and in her first TV series, as the matriarch of the Thatcher clan, Libby. While she believed it to be an "important show because it spoke specifically to the disabled community in America," off screen LuPone did not have a lot of kind words. Writing in her 2010 memoir, she said her character was "unrealistic," had issues with the writers (especially how they poorly weaved her real life pregnancy into the show), admitted to having "no chemistry" with screen husband Bill Smitrovich and by the final season, the two weren't even on speaking terms.

LuPone later appeared on "Oz," "30 Rock," "American Horror Story," "Girls" (as herself), "Penny Dreadful" and most recently Ryan Murphy's "Hollywood." LuPone was a muse of the departed Stephen Sondheim, who she interviewed last year, and is currently playing Joanne in the new stage production of his "Company." She gave a tour of her basement during lockdown, which featured a "Life Goes On" clapboard, and recently talked shop with old "Life"rs Kellie Martin and Chad Lowe.

Chris Burke (Charles "Corky" Thatcher)

When Chris Burke saw an actor with Down's syndrome (Jason Kingsley) on an episode of "The Fall Guy," he was inspired to reach the same heights, became pen pals with him, and later Kinglsey's mother recommended Burke to writer/producer Michael Braverman, who cast him in the failed 1987 ABC pilot "Desperate." 

Braverman recalled that the network "fell in love with" Burke, and tailored the role of Charles "Corky" Thatcher on "Life Goes On" for him. He became the first person with Down syndrome to star on primetime TV, and was later honored with a Golden Globe nomination for his work. Burke described Corky to Ability Magazine as "the one who never gives up. I never gave up. He faces obstacles and he couldn't always reach his goals. But he tries to reach his dreams. Corky is an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. He is a true inspiration, but he doesn't know that he's an inspiration."

While Burke has acted in the years following "Life," appearing on episodes of "Touched By An Angel" (with pops Smitrovich), "The Division" (with "sister" Tracey Needham), "ER," and his last credit, playing a custodian in 2003's "Mona Lisa Smile," he has mostly dedicated his time as a spokesperson and ambassador for those with disabilities, working on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society, and is still inspiring future actors. He wrote the book "A Special Kind of Hero," and recorded and toured with folk duo Joe and John DeMasi (naturally covering "Ob‐La‐Di, Ob‐La‐Da").

Burke now resides outside of Philadelphia, and remains close with both his TV family and actual one. He had an emotional reunion with Kellie Martin and Patti LuPone on a 2015 episode of Hallmark's "Home & Family."

Kellie Martin (Becky Thatcher)

Kellie Martin's career began at age 7 with help from her aunt, Michael Landon's nanny, landing roles on his series "Father Murphy" and "Highway to Heaven." The roles kept on coming, being directed by Penny Marshallrooting on Roddy Piper, working with Lucille Ball, Tracey Ullman, and Scooby Doo, and honoring the scouts in "Troop Beverly Hills"

When asked in 2017 what her most memorable role was, Martin said, "I think the one that is dearest to my heart is Becca Thatcher on 'Life Goes On.' I started that when I was twelve, and worked on it until I was seventeen; it was such an important time in my life." Martin's Emmy nominated work as Becca was in a way the heart of the show, having to endure so many growing pains and beaus with mullets.

(Fun fact: Mayim Bialik was offered the role but turned it down)

Martin's career remained in high gear after she tossed Becca's glasses aside (even attending Yale, over time), making rounds as Lucy Knight on "ER," being bookwormish as the "Mystery Woman," partnered up on "Army Wives" (where she reunited with mom LuPone), on the case in "Hailey Dean Mystery," and making romance in a bounty of Hallmark movies. Her latest was 2019's "Christmas in Montana," which is a state her husband hails from and they and their 2 children visit every year.

The upcoming NBC sequel to "Life Goes On" centers around a grown up Becca returning to her hometown. Martin and her co-star, close friend, and podcast co-host Chad Lowe are producing the project.

Monique Lanier (Paige Thatcher 1989-1990)

University of Utah theater student Monique Lanier auditioned for "Halloween 5," and that casting director helped her land the part of Paige Thatcher on "Life Goes On." Paige was Bill's grown daughter from his previous marriage, and moved back home after a breakup with her boyfriend. Lanier would leave the show after the first season, as her daughter was born premature, and was replaced in the series by actress Tracey Needham. Nonetheless, Lanier soured on her experience out west. In a brutally honest interview in 1992, she said "L.A.'s a really disgusting place," and "I don't like the business." She returned home for more peace of mind, as she thought "human beings are more important than television."

Outside of returning to Hollywood for episodes of "Life with Roger," "Family Matters," and "Baywatch Nights," Lanier has kept true to her word and roots and been involved in productions closer to home in Utah. There she acted in several movies, including "It Was Him or Us," alongside Ann Jillian, Richard Grieco and Wil Wheaton. She also provided voice overs for local video game makers Access Software. A stroke in 2000 kept her from working outside the home, but she has occasionally acted since, also releasing two albums and performing live (her daughter Julian Moon is a singer too).

Tracey Needham (Paige Thatcher 1990-1993)

Tracey Needham made her TV debut on a 1988 episode of "Jake and the Fatman," followed by 2 episodes of "Coach," and soon after, as the outlaw screen partner to Dana Ashbrook in 1992's "Bonnie & Clyde: The True Story."

After Monique Lanier's exit from "Life Goes On," Needham's big break came when she turned the Paige and let her life go on, beginning in Season 2. Needham described her character "as a hippie of the '90s," who "sort of became a lost soul." She is proud of the show, telling author Herbie J. Pilato, it had "a very special voice, one that you don't see on television anymore, definitely not in family shows. It was quirky, but it had a lot of strong messages, without being preachy."

Her post-"Life" had her enlisting as Meg Austin on "JAG," having an affair in "Buried Alive II," inspecting as C.D. DeLorenzo on "The Division," being a suspect wife on "Veronica Mars," and her last starring role, in the 2010 thriller "The Last Harbor."

Needham has been married to fellow actor Tommy Hinkley since 1995, and have collaborated several times — including on the 1997 short she directed ("Tupperware Party") and the production of daughter Katie. The couple tired of Hollywood, moved to her former home state of Colorado, and established the youth acting school "Reel Kids." They have since returned to California.

Chad Lowe (Jesse McKenna)

Chad Lowe followed his brother Rob to Hollywood, and by 1984 had starred in a pair of TV movies, as well as briefly playing the title character in the show "Spencer." He would make a name for himself in the following decade, as "it was one of life's great honors to portray Jesse on #LifeGoesOn," he tweeted in 2018. For his work as Becca's HIV positive boyfriend Jesse McKenna, Lowe won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1993. Other notable works include "Melrose Place," "Unfaithful," "ER," "24," and "Pretty Little Liars."

Lowe was famously married to fellow actress Hilary Swank for 8 years, who forgot to thank him after her Oscar win (Lena Dunham made up for that). He has since remarried and has 3 children. Chad recently directed his brother Rob, from a script by his nephew John Owen, on an episode of "9-1-1: Lone Star." The brothers also worked together on 1984's "Oxford Blues," and Chad directed episodes of "Brothers & Sisters" and "The Grinder." In 2006, he helmed the feature "Beautiful Ohio" starring William Hurt.

Lowe reunited with Kellie Martin in 2018 for 3 episodes of her series "Hailey Dean Mystery," co-hosts the podcast "The Big Break," and is co-producing the "Life Goes On" sequel for NBC.

Tommy Puett (Tyler Benchfield)

Gary, Indiana native Tommy Puett (his father was Michael Jackson's 1st grade teacher) caught the acting bug after his family moved to southern California when he was 6, and his sister Devyn became one of the "Kids Incorporated." He had a few minor roles before becoming a teen heartthrob, playing Becca's boyfriend and Corky's friend, Tyler Benchfield on the first two seasons of "Life Goes On," and even parlayed his celebrity into releasing an album of the same name

He said the show's "Tyler Bendhfield has been written around Tommy Puett," as he has always been "a very heartfelt kid." Hoping to stave off cancellation, his character was killer in a car accident. Casey Kasem tapped him as the host of "America's Top 10," and Puett attempted his own younger version, "America's Top Teens," and had other two pilots that never took off. His final credit was in the 1997 Danny Glover/Dennis Quaid film "Switchback."

Puett pivoted away from the media industry and into the sports one. He first manufactured and sold novelty premium giveaways then began branching out internationally, founding Ultra Sports Products. At the end of 2021 he became Principle of the television company My Success 360. The Red Sox fan and pet advocate also took part in the "Then Again" "Life Goes On" episode, which has yet to be released.

Kiersten Warren (Goodman)

Iowan Kiersten Warren modeled in Japan before making her acting debut on a 1987 episode of "Magnum P.I." She landed in Hollywood working in commercials and a handful of TV series and movies, including 1990's "Exile." "Life Goes On" was Warren's first recurring role on a series. For 14 episodes, she played Becca's overly vocal friend Kathy Goodman, who hated the pageantry of homecoming so much that she entered a cow ("A. Real. Cow.") in its queen crowning competition. To this day, she is still "so proud to have played 'Goodman'," adding it was "a great gig."

Around the same time as "Life," she enrolled as AC Slater's romantic interest Alex Tambor on "Saved by the Bell: The College Years." Warren and Bill Smitrovich both signed up for duty in 1996's "Independence Day," and she has dotted other films such as "Pushing Tin," "Bicentennial Man," "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," "Intolerable Cruelty," and "13 Going on 30." The "working actress" had a main role on "Maximum Bob" and as Nora Huntington, a troublesome one night stand that resurfaces on "Desperate Housewives." Warren recently appeared on an episode of "Dirty John" and in the horror comedy "The Invisible Mother."

She is married to fellow actor Kirk Acevedo, the couple have two children, and she enjoys "writing and creating some stuff for myself and for my husband and I to do together." Warren is also a cat lover, and "buying clothes I can't afford for parties I'm not invited to."

Andrea F. Friedman (Amanda Swanson)

Even though Andrea Fay Friedman was born with Down's syndrome, her and her parents never let that stand in the way of anything. She was introduced to culture at an early age, took acting classes, and eventually became an extra on a 1991 episode of "Life Goes On." The producers were blown away by her and cast her to play Corky's girlfriend. As Amanda Johnson, Friedman appeared in 9 episodes, culminating with marrying Corky in Season 4.

Friedman works in the accounting department at her father's law firm, but of course is always up for a film or TV part. She has made guest spots on shows as diverse as "Baywatch," "Touched by an Angel," "Walker, Texas Ranger," Law & Order: SVU," "ER," and "Saving Grace" (one of her favorite shows). When she voiced the role of Chris' date with Down syndrome, whose "mom is the former governor of Alaska," on a 2010 episode of "Family Guy," it sparked a controversy by offending Sarah Palin. Friedman responded by saying, "I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor."

Her latest role was playing RJ Mitte's long lost mother, the title character in Joey (older brother of John) Travolta's 2019 film "Carol of the Bells," through his Inclusion Films company that teaches filmmaking to people with developmental disabilities. Friedman has also travelled the world as a motivational speaker, works with UCLA's Pathway college program, and likes "spending time with family and friends, go bowling and skiing, going to birthday parties."

Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Kneffer)

Gloria Gifford has had a long and varied career on stage and on screen. Her earliest film roles were in Neil Simon's "California Suite," a victim of Michael Myers in "Halloween II," and later seen in "D.C. Cab," "48 Hrs.," "This Is Spinal Tap," and "Vice Versa." She has also appeared in many TV shows, and as Mrs. Kneffer on "Life Goes On." Gifford was one of the rare secondary characters to appear in both the pilot and the series' finale.

She followed her "Life" work by appearing in such popular sitcoms as "The Nanny," "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper," "Tracy Takes On...," and "8 Simple Rules," as well as several holiday themed TV movies, and producing the two series "Untitled Fiction Project" and "Untitled Murder Project 2.0." Her last acting credit was a 2016 episode of "12 Monkeys," but she has kept plenty busy off screen, teaching acting, writing and directing (Patty Jenkins was one of her students) at the American Film Institute, and has been an award winning director of over 75 stage productions.

Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Doubcha)

Swedish actress Elsa Viveca Torstensdotter Lindfors made her movie debut in 1940's "Snurriga familjen" ("The Crazy Family"), and then made her way to Hollywood in a career that lasted 5 decades. Along the way she played leading lady opposite Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Glenn Ford and James Cagney, and worked for directors such as Fritz Lang, Robert Altman, Sydney Pollock, Rob Reiner, and Don Siegel (who became her third of four husbands).

12 years after her only other Emmy nomination, she won one in 1990 as an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for playing Becca's aging dance teacher Mrs. Douchba on the "Life Goes On" episode "Save the Last Dance for Me."

Soon after defying the norms of her industry, Lindfors told UPI, "It seems that women are not allowed to grow old in Hollywood ... because men run the industry. It would appear that there are millions of women who would like to see characters on the screen with whom they can identify, women their age who are not stereotyped." She took up the task herself, writing, directing and starring in 1987's "Unfinished Business," and playing her graceful age on "China Beach," "Law & Order," and in "The Exorcist III," "Stargate," and her final two films, "Last Summer in the Hamptons" and "Run for Cover."

Lindfors died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis in 1995, at age 74.