In the late 1980s, television audiences were introduced to a groundbreaking sitcom that not only entertained, but also addressed important social issues. A Different World was a spin-off of the highly successful The Cosby Show and its storylines and cast became a cultural phenomenon in its own right.
The series first aired on NBC in 1987, and continued for six seasons until 1993. Produced by Fame‘s Debbie Allen, the show was set against the backdrop of the fictional Hillman College, a historically black college in Virginia. The show primarily focused on the experiences of students navigating the challenges of higher education, friendship, love and societal issues.
The A Different World cast delved into subjects like race, class and gender, tackling them head-on in a way that was both humorous and thought-provoking. The characters faced real-world problems, and the show earned praise for its commitment to addressing important social issues. As a result, A Different World gained a dedicated fan base and became a cultural touchstone for many viewers.
The show’s success was reflected in its ratings and critical acclaim. Throughout its run, A Different World received several nominations for Emmy and NAACP Image Awards. While it did not secure any major wins, its impact was evident in the discussions it sparked and the representation it provided for African American characters on television.
Here, we look at the A Different World cast today.
Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable in A Different World cast
Lisa Bonet portrayed Denise Huxtable who gained fame for her role on The Cosby Show. Denise was a free-spirited and artistic character who left home to attend Hillman College. Bonet’s performance resonated with audiences, and her character became a fan favorite.
Born in 1967, in San Francisco, California, Bonet had small parts in St. Elsewhere and other shows before being cast as Denise Huxtable.
After A Different World, Bonet continued to build her acting career with roles in films such as Angel Heart (1987) Enemy of the State (1998) and High Fidelity (2000).
Bonet married Lenny Kravitz in 1987 and together they had one child, Zoë. Bonet and Kravitz divorced in 2003. Bonet then married actor Jason Momoa in 2017. They have two children together, but the couple split in 2022.
Did you know? Marisa Tomei, who also starred in A Different World, was good friends with Lisa Bonet both on and off the set. In fact, Tomei is the godmother of Zoë Kravitz, Bonet’s daughter.
Dawnn Lewis as Jaleesa Vinson
Dawnn Lewis was born in 1961 in Brooklyn, New York and started acting from a very young age. But her most well known and iconic role was as Jaleesa Vinson — Denise Huxtable and Maggie Lauten’s roommate and the coach’s girlfriend — for over 100 episodes in A Different World. Now, though, she is known for her work in Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the 2006 hit Dreamgirls, The Simpsons, and a three-episode stint on Grey’s Anatomy.
Jasmine Guy as Whitley Gilbert in A Different World cast
Jasmine Guy portrayed Whitley Gilbert, a sophisticated and initially snobbish student at Hillman. Born in 1962, in Boston, Massachusetts, Guy brought depth and humor to her character, evolving Whitley from an antagonist to a beloved figure over the course of the series. Guy’s performance earned her critical acclaim and recognition.
Before joining the cast of A Different World, Guy had already made a name for herself as a dancer and actress. She began her professional career at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City where she became a member at the age of seventeen. From there, she appeared in original Broadway productions of Beehive and Leader of the Pack, and reprised roles in popular shows including Grease, The Wiz and Chicago. After years on Broadway, she landed the role of Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. Ironically, her sister, Monica Guy, was often her stand-in on the set.
After the series, Guy continued her career with notable roles in film and television, including the role of Roxy Harvey in the series Dead Like Me (2003–2004). Most recently Guy was in 2023’s TV movie A Wesley Christmas Wedding.
Did you know? Jasmine Guy almost quit A Different World after the show’s first season. She told People, “I didn’t like the way they were treating the cast.” She went in to give her notice, but they convinced her to stay.
Kadeem Hardison as Dwayne Wayne in A Different World cast
Kadeem Hardison played Dwayne Wayne, a charming and intelligent math major known for his iconic flip-up glasses. Born in 1965, in Brooklyn, New York, Hardison’s portrayal of Dwayne endeared him to audiences. Dwayne’s on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Whitley became a central storyline on the show.
Before joining A Different World, Hardison had guest spots on The Cosby Show, Spenser: for Hire and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
After A Different World, Hardison had recurring roles in several shows including The Lincoln Lawyer, Grown-ish, Moonhaven and Teenage Bounty Hunters. Most recently, he was in the 2024 movie Clearmind.
Did you know? Hardison is famous in The Netherlands because of his character in A Different World. The Dutch know exactly what is meant by “Dwayne Wayne glasses” since everyone wanted them back in the ’90s.
Darryl M. Bell as Ron Johnson
Darryl M. Bell portrayed Ron Johnson, a laid-back and easygoing character with a love for sports. Born in 1963, in Chicago, Illinois, Bell’s performance as Ron added a comedic element to the show. Ron’s friendship with Dwayne and his romantic pursuits were recurring themes throughout the series.
Bell was cast in A Different World right after graduating from Syracuse University. He didn’t have much acting experience prior to his role.
After the series, Bell went on to have supporting roles in Living Single (1993), For Your Love (1998) and he co-starred in Homeboys in Outer Space (1996). Most recently, he was seen in the TV series Insecure.
Did you know? Bell had a supporting role in Spike Lee’s movie School Daze (1988) alongside fellow A Different World castmates Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison.
Marisa Tomei as Maggie Lauten in A Different World cast
Marisa Tomei was born in 1964 in Brooklyn, New York. Before joining A Different World Cast, Tomei had roles in a few films including The Flamingo Kid. She also had a reoccurring role in the soap opera As The World Turns.
But her big break came playing Maggie Lauten in A Different World cast.
After the series, Tomei co-starred as Joe Pesci’s hilariously foul-mouthed, scene-stealing girlfriend in My Cousin Vinny (1992), a performance that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Before the 1993 Oscar ceremony, she told Entertainment Tonight (1981) that her biggest fear was that she would trip on the steps on her way to the stage. She did.
She turned down the female lead in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral (it went to Andie MacDowell). Tomei did appear in several well-received movies including The Wrestler (2008), The Big Short (2015) and most recently in Upgraded (2024).
Did you know? While playing roommates on the show, co-stars Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei lived together in real life.
Sinbad as Coach Walter Oakes
Born David Adkins in 1956 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Sinbad took on a stage name to make himself stand out. He started doing stand-up comedy while in the military (he was in the air force as a boom operator) and eventually appeared in Star Search. He lost in the final round, but continued to do stand-up at clubs. Before being cast as Coach Walter Oakes in A Different World, he appeared in the movie Club Med and in the television series The Cosby Show and the Redd Foxx Show.
From 1993-1994 he had his own series, The Sinbad Show. He also appeared in several films including House Guest (1994), Jingle All the Way (1996), First Kid (1996) and Good Burger (1997). Most recently he starred in the Fox comedy Rel (2018–2019).
Did you know? Sinbad married Meredith Fuller in 1985 and together, they had two children. The couple divorced in 1992, but remarried in 2002.
A Different World Cast: Jada Pinkett Smith as Lena James
Jada Pinkett Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She majored in dance and choreography at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where one of her classmates was Tupac Shakur. They became fast friends and even made a video together where they lip-synced to (future husband) Will Smith’s & DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Parents Just Don’t Understand. Jada and Tupac remained friends until his death.
Pinkett Smith’s big acting break came when she was cast in A Different World.
After the series she starred in the movie Menace II Society (1993) and opposite Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor (1996). Ironically, she auditioned for the role of future husband Will Smith’s girlfriend, Lisa, on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but was told she was too short.
Pinkett Smith co-hosts the Emmy-winning Facebook Watch series, Red Table Talk, with her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and her daughter, Willow Smith. On the show Pinkett Smith revealed that she has Alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. She has since been open about her diagnosis and why she shaved her head.
In 2023, she published her memoir Worthy.
Did you know? Pinkett Smith first met lifelong friend and then fledgling rapper Queen Latifah in 1987 when she introduced the singer as the opening act for hip-hop group Public Enemy at Baltimore’s Palladium club. Jada and Latifah were respectively 16 and 17-years-old at the time. They are still friends.
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