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‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Cast: What Happened to the Beloved Stars?

Who could forget "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"


Diff’rent Strokes was an iconic and beloved TV sitcom that aired on NBC from 1978 to 1985. The series was created by Jeff Harris and Bernie Kukoff. The show centered around the lives of two young African-American brothers, Arnold and Willis Jackson, who are adopted by a wealthy white businessman, Phillip Drummond, who also had a daughter Kimberly. Mr. Drummond was a widower and Mrs. Garrett, the housekeeper, played the maternal figure on the show.

The sitcom was an immediate hit, captivating audiences with its heartwarming story and the endearing performances of its talented cast. Diff’rent Strokes became known for its ability to tackle serious social issues, such as racism, drug abuse and sexual abuse, while maintaining its comedic charm.  =The show’s popularity was further bolstered by its successful spin-off, The Facts of Life, which ran for nine seasons. 

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Here, we look at the : Diff’rent Strokes cast and what happened to our favorite beloved stars.

Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett: Diff’rent Strokes cast

Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett
1980/2017 Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer/Getty; David Livingston / Contributor/Getty

Charlotte Rae played the role of Edna Garrett, the Drummond family’s housekeeper and a maternal figure to Arnold and Willis. Rae’s portrayal of the warm and no-nonsense Mrs. Garrett was a fan favorite, and the character went on to star in the spin-off series The Facts of Life where Rae played that role for seven seasons. She received an Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series.

MUST READ: ‘The Facts of Life’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Star Charlotte Rae Was the TV Matriarch We All Loved — Here’s Why

Rae made her acting debut on stage, starring in Broadway musicals like Three Wishes for Jamie and Li’l Abner. She then moved to TV and starred several series including From These Roots, Car 54, and even Sesame Street (as Molly the Mail Lady). She then starred in the series Hot l Baltimore before landing her role as Edna Garret in Diff’rent Strokes, which then led to her career-defining role in Facts of Life.

When Rae talked about how she landed the role in Diff’rent Strokes, she said, “When you’re offered a series, you want to make sure it’s a good one. You don’t want to just take anything.” So when they called her to ask her to try out for Mrs. Garrett she assumed she would be asked to read from the script, but she never did. Instead, producers asked her what the role of the housekeeper should be.

She said, “With three kids without a mother, there needs to be guidance, love, attention, but no funny business. There are rules you can’t just melt and love them to death.” And with that she landed the job. “I didn’t even read the script, but they liked what I had to say about the character.”

After Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life, there she did plenty of voicework including in the Itsy Bitsy Spider and 101 Dalmatians: The Series. She also appeared in the 2008 comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and the 2012 thriller Love Sick Love. Her last feature film credit was Ricki and the Flash with Meryl Streep in 2015. That same year she released her autobiography The Facts of My Life, co-written by her son Larry Strauss.

She passed away in 2018 at the age of 92.

Todd Bridges who played Willis in Diff’rent Strokes remember Garret fondly, saying “She was always so bright and bubbly and had so much energy. So much energy that we almost didn’t know how to deal with her. It was almost as if every time was the first time she was acting — that’s how excited she was.”

Conrad Bain as Phillip Drummond

Conrad Bain as Phillip Drummond (Diff'rent Strokes cast)
1983/2003 Bob Riha Jr / Contributor/Getty; Gregg DeGuire / Contributor/Getty

Conrad Bain played the role of Phillip Drummond, the wealthy Park Avenue businessman who takes in the two young brothers, Arnold and Willis, after their mother’s passing. Bain was the straight man to the diminutive, wisecracking Gary Coleman, who played Arnold, the younger of the two boys.

Reflecting on his relationship with his on-screen dad, Todd Bridges said, “He was a really good man. He really was like Mr. Drummond. Just an all-around nice guy. He treated me better than my own father treated me.” In fact, Bridges said Bain treated Bridges kids like his own grandchildren. “When I had my son, I took him to Conrad’s house and he loved him, played chess with him, called him his grandson. He just really knew how to take care of people.”

Prior to Diff’rent Strokes Bain was known for his role as Dr. Arthur Harmon on the sitcom Maude. He was the stuffy, conservative neighbor of Maude (played by Bea Arthur). That show aired from 1972 to 1978. 

After Diff’rent Strokes Bain continued to act, appearing in various television shows and films, including Coogan’s Bluff (1968), starring Clint Eastwood; Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971); the 1988 comedy film Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw and the 1990 film Postcards from the Edge (1990). 

When Diff’rent Strokes ended, he played the presidential aide Charlie Ross, alongside George C Scott, in the sitcom Mr President (1987-88). His last television appearance was as a priest in the detective drama Unforgettable (2011).

Bain was married to Monica Sloan from 1945 until his death in 2013 at the age of 89. 

MUST READ: ‘Maude’ Cast: A Look Back at the Stars From the Hit 70s Sitcom

Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson: Diff’rent Strokes cast

Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson
1978/2009 Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer/Getty; Jamie McCarthy / Staff/Getty

Gary Coleman played the role of Arnold Jackson, the younger of the two brothers taken in by the Drummond family. Coleman’s portrayal of the precocious and witty Arnold made him an instant star, and the catchphrase “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” became a cultural phenomenon. 

Prior to Diff’rent Strokes, Coleman had appeared in television commercials. After the show’s success, Coleman had a hard time finding his footing. He had guest appearances on several shows like Married with Children and the Wayans Bros, but sadly Coleman’s life was marked by health, financial and legal troubles.

Coleman had been in and out of hospitals all his life, receiving treatment for congenital kidney disease. The treatment was said to have stunted his growth. Coleman, who was 4 feet 8 inches tall, had a kidney transplant at the age of 5 and a second one when he was 16.

At his peak on Diff’rent Strokes, he earned $3 million a year. However, he sued his parents and his former manager in 1989, accusing them of misappropriating his trust fund.

In 1999 he filed for bankruptcy protection. He was arrested several times and charged with assault and disorderly conduct; he was also arrested on domestic violence charges. He and his former wife, Shannon Price, appeared on the reality show Divorce Court in 2008.

Coleman passed away in 2010 due to a brain injury caused by a fall. He was only 42.

Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson

Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson (Diff'rent Strokes cast)
1978/2019Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer/Getty; Leon Bennett / Stringer/Getty

Todd Bridges played the role of Willis Jackson, the older of the two brothers taken in by the Drummond family. Bridges’ portrayal of the streetwise and sometimes rebellious Willis was a perfect foil to Coleman’s Arnold.  Prior to Diff’rent Strokes, Bridges played the role of Loomis in the TV series Fish.  However, he landed his career defining role at 12 as Willis.

In an interview, Bridges spoke about the lasting impact of Diff’rent Strokes, saying, “It was during a time that race relations were kind of poor in America, and it kind of hit home that it doesn’t matter what color you are. Whoever God puts in front of you is who you’re supposed to love.”

After the show, Bridges had guest appearances on several shows like The Love Boat and Facts of Life, but had a difficult time finding consistent work. He began to experience turbulent times, which led to drug addiction and trouble with the law. Bridges has been open about his struggles with addiction and legal troubles, which he has attributed to the pressures of child stardom. 

From 2007-2009 he found his footing playing Monk on Everybody Hates Chris. He was most recently seen is 2022’s Sangre Negra… Black Blood.

Bridges was married to his first wife Dori for 14 years and they had two children, son Spencir, 24, and daughter Bo, 25. In 2022 he married designer Bettijo B. Hirschi.

MUST READ: ‘The Love Boat’ Cast: See the Stars of the Campy Classic Then and Now

Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond: Diff’rent Strokes cast

Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond
1985/1998 Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer/Getty; Denny Keeler / Contributor/Getty

Dana Plato played the role of Kimberly Drummond, the daughter of Phillip Drummond and the adoptive sister of Arnold and Willis. Plato’s portrayal of the privileged yet kind-hearted Kimberly was a crucial part of the show’s ensemble.  Prior to Diff’rent Strokes, Plato had had bit parts in a couple television shows and films, including CHiPs and the movie California Suite.

Then landed the role of Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes and became an instant star. “Dana and I were just 12 years old when the show started,” says co-star Todd Bridges. Being a young child star was difficult. “This director was just so mean to us. He would scream at us and make us cry.” 

After the show’s run, Plato struggled to find her way. She had parts in low-budget films. She also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and her life was marked by legal troubles and financial difficulties. She was arrested in 1991 for robbing a Las Vegas video store. The next year she was arrested for forging prescriptions for Valium.

Tragically, Plato passed away in 1999 at the age of 34 due to a drug overdose. 

Mary Ann Mobley as Maggie McKinney Drummond

Mary Ann Mobley as Maggie McKinney Drummond (Diff'rent Strokes cast)
1979/2014 Donaldson Collection / Contributor/Getty; Michael Bezjian / Contributo/Getty

Mary Ann Mobley played the role of Maggie McKinney Drummond, Phillip Drummond’s second wife, who appeared in the later seasons of the show. Mobley’s portrayal of the kind and supportive Maggie was a welcome addition to the Drummond household. 

Prior to Diff’rent Strokes, Mobley had a successful career as a model and actress. In addition to winning the Miss America contest, she started her acting career on stage before moving to TV and film. She starred with Elvis Presley in Girl Happy in 1965.

Of working with Elvis, she said, “Elvis and I felt a common bond, coming from Mississippi. He thought I understood him. He didn’t have to put on airs with me, and I wasn’t after anything. This is an odd thing to say about Elvis Presley, but it was like I was working with my brother.”

After Diff’rent Strokes, Mobley continued to act, appearing in shows like Falcon Crest and Designing Women. Her most recent appearance was in the TV show Dead Like Me in 2003.

She was married to actor and TV host Gary Collins and they had three children.

She passed away in 2014, she was 77.

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