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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 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. The ABC network's head of drama programming Chad Hoffman explained, "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 primetime show. It also aimed to enhance 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 more than 30 years since "Life" went on for the cast and crew of the groundbreaking series that ran for four seasons, but "Life" hasn't been forgotten. In 2022, a sequel centering on Kellie Martin's Becca was in the works at NBC. Whether or not that particular project ever pans out, it's never a bad time 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.'" He played patriarch and budding restaurateur Drew Thatcher (and even directed an episode). He continued, "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." This was also 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." Smitrovich and screen son Chris Burke reunited for an episode of "Touched By An Angel," and once toyed with the idea of playing private detectives in a movie together.

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 on film, 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," she had issues with the writers (especially how they poorly weaved her real-life pregnancy into the show), and admitted to having "no chemistry" with screen husband Bill Smitrovich. 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 Ryan Murphy's "Hollywood." LuPone was a muse of the departed Stephen Sondheim, who she interviewed in 2021, and played Joanne in a stage production of his show "Company" that began that year. During the COVID-19 lockdown, she gave fans a digital tour of her basement, which featured a "Life Goes On" clapboard, and 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."

Burke has acted in the years following "Life," appearing on episodes of "Touched by an Angel" (with TV pop Smitrovich), "The Division" (with TV sister Tracey Needham), "ER," and his last credit, playing a custodian in 2003's "Mona Lisa Smile." But he has mostly dedicated his time to being 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").

As of 2021, Burke 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 (Becca Thatcher)

Kellie Martin's career began at age 7 with help from her aunt who happened to be Michael Landon's nanny; the connection landed Martin roles on Landon shows "Father Murphy" and "Highway to Heaven." The roles kept on coming after that — Martin was directed by Penny Marshall in "Jumpin' Jack Flash," rooted for Roddy Piper in "Body Slam," honored the scouts in "Troop Beverly Hills" and worked with Lucille Ball, Tracey Ullman, and Scooby-Doo.

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 12, and worked on it until I was 17; 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. Becca has to endure many growing pains, as well as many beaus with mullets.

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

Martin's life and career remained in high gear after she tossed Becca's glasses aside. She made rounds as Lucy Knight on "ER," was a bookworm in "Mystery Woman," reunited with TV mom Patty LuPone on "Army Wives," was on the case in "Hailey Dean Mystery," and did the romance thing in numerous Hallmark movies. Also, she began attending Yale in the mid-'90s, and indicated she was still taking classes there as of 2020. 

The previously announced 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 were announced as 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 moves back home after a breakup with her boyfriend. Lanier would leave the show after the first season, and was replaced in the series by Tracey Needham. Nonetheless, Lanier soured on her experience out West. In a brutally honest interview in 1992, she said "LA'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 kept true to her word 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," and followed that up with two episodes of "Coach." Soon after, she played the outlaw screen partner to Dana Ashbrook of "Twin Peaks" fame 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, so to speak, 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" career had her enlisting as Meg Austin on "JAG," having an affair in "Buried Alive II," inspecting as C.D. DeLorenzo on "The Division," and being a suspect wife on "Veronica Mars." Her last starring role was 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"). The couple had a daughter named Katie and tired of Hollywood, moving to Needham's former home state of Colorado and establishing 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 and briefly played 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. He had other notable roles in "Melrose Place," "Unfaithful," "ER," "24," and "Pretty Little Liars."

Lowe was married to fellow actor Hilary Swank – who forgot to thank him after her 2000 Oscar win — for eight years. (Oddly enough, Lena Dunham, whose interactions with Lowe have been seemingly limited to social media, thanked him at the 2013 Emmys.) He has since remarried and has three children. Chad Lowe recently directed his brother Rob on a handful of episodes 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 three episodes of her series "Hailey Dean Mystery." He co-hosts the podcast "The Big Break" and was announced as co-producer for the "Life Goes On" sequel for NBC.

Tommy Puett (Tyler Benchfield)

Indiana native Tommy Puett (his father was Michael Jackson's first grade teacher) caught the acting bug after his family moved to Southern California when he was 6 and his sister Devyn got a part on "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 of the show, "Tyler Benchfield has been written around Tommy Puett," as he has always been "a very heartfelt kid." Tyler gets killed off in a car accident, but luckily for Puett, Casey Kasem tapped him as the host of "America's Top 10." Puett attempted his own younger version of the countdown show, "America's Top Teens," and had other two pilots that never took off. His final credit was in the 1997 Danny Glover and Dennis Quaid film "Switchback."

After his acting and music careers both dried up, Puett appears to have pivoted away from the media industry and into sports products.

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, and "Life Goes On" was Warren's first recurring TV role. 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 in its queen-crowning competition. To this day, she has said 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 Tabor 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." In 2018, Warren appeared on an episode of "Dirty John" and in the horror comedy "The Invisible Mother." She is married to fellow actor Kirk Acevedo, and the couple have two children.

Andrea F. Friedman (Amanda Swanson)

Even though Andrea Fay Friedman was born with Down's syndrome, she 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 nine episodes, culminating with marrying Corky in Season 4.

Friedman worked in the accounting department at her father's law firm, but was always game for a film or TV part. She 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 last screen role was Carol Harris, the title character in Joey (older brother of John) Travolta's 2019 film "Carol of the Bells" made through his Inclusion Films company that teaches filmmaking to people with developmental disabilities. Friedman has also travelled the world as a motivational speaker, and worked with UCLA's Pathway college program. She passed away in December of 2023 at the age of 53 due to Alzheimer's complications.

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" and as a victim of Michael Myers in "Halloween II." She was later seen in "D.C. Cab," "48 Hrs.," "This Is Spinal Tap," and "Vice Versa." She has also been on 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. 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. She's also the 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 for a career that lasted five 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).

Twelve 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.