Gary Coleman, Conrad Bain and Todd Bridges (AP Photo)
When actor Conrad Bain died recently, TV sitcom fans flocked to his Legacy.com guest book. Quite a few of the condolences and messages we received read something like this:
I was born in 1975, but i still remember watching this show along with my two brothers. We would play outside, but always made sure we never missed the show at its airing time. Its sad to know that a great actor has passed. He's in heaven now with his two actor children.. Gary Coleman and Dana Plato. Im pretty sure they're doing their own sitcom of laughter up there. May he rest in peace. ~ Susie, California
Though each actor did other work, the stars of Diff'rent Strokes are bound together in our minds. Today, the day when Gary Coleman would have turned 45, we're remembering the actor and the TV family that moved the world… or at least a generation.
In 1978 Gary Coleman's career was just beginning. He had starred in a few commercials, gaining the attention of NBC studio heads with his charm, as well as his small stature and baby face (a result of a chronic autoimmune kidney disease). Meanwhile Conrad Bain had just completed a stint costarring with Bea Arthur on Maude. Producers decided to bring them together, along with Todd Bridges, Dana Plato and Charlotte Rae, to portray what was, at the time, a pretty unconventional family.
For eight seasons, Diff'rent Strokes brought us lots of laughs. It also brought us lots of "very special episodes" – when the laughs were tempered by serious issues like drugs, racism, sexual predators, the dangers of hitchhiking and more.
The show's young stars went on to lead difficult adult lives – they struggled with drug abuse and money problems, and in the case of Dana Plato (1964 - 1999) and Gary Coleman (1968 - 2010), died much too young. But for a few years, they were on top of the world. They made us laugh. They gave us a beloved catchphrase – "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" And they expanded pop culture's definition of "family."
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.