Diff’rent Strokes Stars Had No Idea Their Lives Would Turn Out This Way

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No One’s Joke

During the 90’s Coleman was charged with assault. The former Diff’rent Strokes actor was employed as a security guard and was cruising the mall when a woman by the name of Tracy Fields approached him, asking for a photograph. Fields, who was a Los Angeles bus driver and fan of Coleman’s work, did not take it well when Coleman refused to give her an autograph.

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Should’ve Seen It Coming

Dana Plato, who played the character of Kimberly Drummond, got into some trouble with the law after she was caught stealing from a Las Vegas video store. The Diff’rent Strokes actress pulled out a gun and demanded everything the cash register contained, which turned out to be $160. She took the cash and fled, but then came back to the crime scene realizing she forgot her glasses, where she was arrested. Shortly afterward, Plato was caught forging a 1,000 Valium prescription and was given a second five-year probation sentence.

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Almost Never Happened

When Diff’rent Strokes aired, it was only because the scheduled The Little Rascals, the same show Gary Coleman taped a pilot episode for, didn’t air. However, the series didn’t get picked up, but one exec took notice of Coleman and was not willing to give up on him.

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Did She Choose Wisely?

Dana Plato was training for the Olympics when she got the call announcing she landed the role of Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes. The ice skating champion had a crucial decision to make – should she give up her dream of going to the Olympics and join the cast, or should she turn down the gig that could make her worldly famous? As we know, Plato decided to go for the show. On a personal level, Plato married her longtime boyfriend, rock guitarist Lanny Lambert. The couple had one child, Tyler Edward Lambert.

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Fired For Being Pregnant

After Dana said “I do,” she was laid off the show since the producers of Diff’rent Strokes found out she was pregnant. Plato tried to argue that a pregnancy could fit the show’s wholesome image, but to no avail. Plato later separated from her husband on the same week her mother died of scleroderma. Feeling desperate and unsure of what to do next, Dana signed over her power of attorney to an accountant, but the latter disappeared with most of her money, leaving her with no more than $150,000.

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Sued His Own Parents

In 1989, Coleman hired his own attorney and sued his adoptive parents and former business advisor for $3.8 million. He took all to trial claiming they have misappropriated his trust fund, which was made of the money he earned from his time on Diff’rent Strokes. The judge backed Coleman’s notion but deducted the earnings to $1.28 million in 1993. When Coleman was asked how he felt after winning the lawsuit, he explained: “I am still bitter… It still hurts. It still hurts… You do midgets and mascots to pay the mortgage.”

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Better Than His Father

“This is probably one of the most heart-wrenching days I’ve had in a long time,” said Bridges, who was falling apart thinking his surrogate father on and offscreen was now gone. “Conrad’s not going to be around anymore to talk to. Whenever I needed advice, I’d call Conrad,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

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Talk About A Raise!

Not many know that the star of the show – the same one who coined the catchphrase “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Willis?” – was paid a measly $1800 per episode. This was at the very start of the show, but once it started making waves, Coleman’s parents and manager fought for him to receive $30,000 per episode. In 1981, Coleman demanded another pay raise, which caused him to sit out for the first episode of the fourth season. His salary then increased to $70,000 per episode.

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He Absolutely Hated It

Coleman’s character, Arnold, was scripted to say, “What are you talking about, Willis,” but the actor thought it would be catchier to pronounce the line different by saying, “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?” The catchphrase became an instant hit. However, after a while, Coleman was sick of repeating the same catchphrase over and over again and declared he would never say it again. Coleman has not uttered it since his 1999 cameo as himself on the hugely successful show The Simpsons (1989), which is still showing today.

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Getting Ugly

Coleman could not sustain his anger and punched Fields in the face repeatedly, as eyewitnesses testified. Gary was arrested but claimed he acted violently out of self-defense, as Fields threatened him. “She wouldn’t leave me alone,” he said, “I was getting scared, and she was getting ugly.” Coleman pleaded no contest to one count of assault and received a suspended jail sentence. He was also ordered to pay Fields’ hospital bill of $1,665, as well as take anger management classes.

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The Most Disturbing Episode

Diff’rent Strokes aired a two-part episode featuring a character called “the Bicycle Man” about child molestation. Although a sitcom characterized by constant gags and low punches, these two controversial episodes did so well in terms of rating that the show consequently went on to air other Very Special Episodes about different grave topics, among which were alcoholism, bulimia, and epilepsy. This was not the first time a sitcom addressed such issues on national TV, but its success did cause others to follow the trend.

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Went Back On His Word

Even though Gary did everything in his power to break out of his Diff’rent Strokes character, he agreed to make a cameo as Arnold for the series finale of the popular sitcom starring Will Smith, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Arnold and Mr. Drummond appear to be considering to buy Banks’ home, and when Arnold references Will by saying “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Will?” Drummond retorts, “You know Arnold, those things were a lot funnier when you were a little child.”

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Lost Custody Of Her Son

During her March 1990 divorce, actress Dana Plato lost custody of her son, Tyler. Her ex-husband, Lambert, was willing to grant Plato visitation rights, but losing custody tore Plato apart. Consequently, Dana moved to Las Vegas in search of a better life, but she struggled with poverty and unemployment. Eventually, Dana was hired by a dry-cleaning store and spent her free time gambling whatever money she made on slot machines in casinos. It was at this point that she began to drink excessively.

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From Glam To Governor

In the 2003 California recall election, Gary Coleman decided to run for governor. His campaign was sponsored by the free newsweekly paper East Bay Express as a satirical remark on the recall, but it seemed Coleman was serious about making a difference. However, the minute The Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger declared his candidacy for the same political race, Coleman announced he fully intends on voting for Schwarzenegger and urges others to do the same. Coleman eventually placed 8th in a field of 135 candidates, receiving a very respectable sum of 14,242 votes.

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Getting Worse And Worse

Coleman was left unemployed once Diff’rent Strokes ended, which did not help in covering his medical bills or lifting his spirit. His short stature of 4″8 stemmed from congenital kidney disease, which resulted in two unsuccessful kidney transplants and required frequent dialysis. Coleman was not keen on revealing his personal health details to the general public. In May 2010, Coleman was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center after falling down the stairs at his home. Coleman died at the age of 42 after his ex-wife took him off life support.

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Struggling Against The Slippery Slope

Todd Bridges played the role of Willis Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes, and much like his former costars, he had a hard time bouncing back after the show ended. Bridges, struggled with an illegal substance addiction while he was in his 20’s which eventually led to his arrest. After a long time spent overlooking his life, Bridges decided to clean up his act and focus on doing what he loved – acting. He went on to play in Decision House, Everybody Hates Chris, and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

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Most Heart-Wrenching Days

The death of Conrad Bain hit no one harder than Todd Bridges, who took it to social media to express his pain. For eight seasons straight, Bridges played the adopted son of millionaire Bain’s character, Mr. Drummond. Conrad was married to Monica Sloan in 1945 until her death in 2009. The pair had two sons and one daughter together. Six years later, Bain passed away due to complications he had following a heart attack. Conrad died on January 14, 2013, in Livermore, California, just three weeks before his 90th birthday.

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‘Till The Restaining Order Do Us Part

Coleman met Shannon Price in 2007 when she was working as an extra on the set of the film Church Ball. Coleman married the 22-year-old after a few months, but a year later appeared on the show Divorce Court to save their marriage. The cited irreconcilable differences when they called it quits and divorced in August 2008, but things turned ugly when Coleman was granted an ex parte restraining order against Price, as Price allegedly refused to move out of his home when he was hospitalized after their divorce.

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Loves The Drama

Coleman was fed up feeling like he was cut out for one role for the rest of his life and feared he would not be valued as an actor once the show was over. For this reason, he asked NBC to create a dramatic role for him, which resulted in Coleman playing a dark lead in a movie titled Playing with Fire. Coleman also asked that the Diff’rent Strokes character of Arnold would be written in as a high school student, as he had enough of playing a young boy.

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The Huge Flop

As the show’s rating deteriorated, the show was picked by ABC for its very last season. The fans were furious with the decision to end the show after its eighth season and blamed actor Gary Coleman for demanding too much money per episode. Coleman explained that he too was saddened by the notion the cast had to part ways, but his paycheck had nothing to do with this decision. “The show was canceled due to low ratings more than anything,” he explained.

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From Riches To Rags

Coleman lost almost all of his fortune in a legal battle with his adoptive parents, claiming they abused their right to control of his wealth until he was 18 and spent all his money on their personal expenses. By the end of it, Coleman was left with just $200,000. He turned to menial jobs for basic income and had to result to signing and selling his personal items, one of which being the bowling shoes he was in Diff’rent Strokes, which went for $100. In 1999, Coleman filed for bankruptcy.

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Mother Knows Best

Plato had that perfect pearly grin and beach wave hair that fit ideally with the onscreen Hollywood image. Dana appeared in numerous television commercials and films as a child, but at age nine, she wanted to step out of her comfort zone. She auditioned for The Exorcist and was offered the part of the possessed girl, but her mother vetoed the gig. If Dana had gone for the horror film, she probably would have never winded up playing Philip Drummond’s daughter in Diff’rent Strokes!

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Crashed And Burned

After Diff’rent Strokes ended, Plato professional path spiraled downhill due to her growing addiction. She spent “Three years of non-stop drinking,” said Dana during one interview. “I didn’t care for [illegal substances] much; I just wanted my alcohol. I would have crashed and burned no matter what.” Plato needed more money to feed her addiction, so she quit her dry cleaning job and playing slot machines in Las Vegas in favor of an offer to pose nude for Playboy magazine.

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Music To His Ears

Best recognized for his role as affable dad Jason Seaver on Growing Pains or amiable father of singer Robin Thicke, Alan Thicke spent most of his time in the 80’s composing a number of memorable tunes for TV. Thicke not only wrote the theme song for The Facts of Life but also sang and co-wrote the music and lyrics for Diff’rent Strokes. Alan’s son Robin also sang a part of that very same song during an interview in 2012.

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Crippling Birth Defect

Coleman was born with a genetic birth defect that forced him to be heavily medicated on an everyday basis. The medication he was given resulted in his short stature, and so he was unable to grow past 4″8. Not only that, but the star had many other health problems because of the heavy drugs he was given. Coleman had kidney failure and received his first kidney transplant when he was only five years old. He then had another transplant a few years later. Coleman also received dialysis four times a day.

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Devastating Loss

Trying to correct the wrongful floozy and junkie image that was painted, Dana went on to appear on TV and explained why she has changed in the interview. “I have been sober for more than a decade now,” she said, breaking down in tears. “No joke. I’m tired of defending my character. I am what I am. What you see is what you get. My life is good now. I’ve never been happier.” Sadly, the next day Plato ended her life. She was just 35.

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If Only

Conrad Bain, who played Dana Plato’s onscreen father in in the popular 70’s sitcom, had a hard time grieving over former costar Dana Plato. “It’s a tragic case,” he said of Dana, thinking of their time together in Diff’rent Strokes. “I recall her as a beautiful, talented, young girl. That’s the way she is in my mind.” Ironically, that is exactly the image Dana was struggling to return to after the show ended, and it was unfortunate that no one else saw her like that.

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All In The Name

If it was not for the boxing legend Muhammad Ali, there would never have been Diff’rent Strokes. The show would most likely have still been on the air, but it would have been called 45 Minutes from Harlem. Since a show’s title has a great impact on the way it is perceived, the initially suggested name could have made the entire production a flop! Thankfully, an executive heard Ali’s quote of “Different strokes for different folks,” and the name Diff’rent Strokes was picked up instead.

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In Her Blood

Mary Jo Catlett, also known as housekeeper Pearl Gallagher on Diff’rent Strokes, is still very much alive and kicking in one of the toughest industries on Earth. At 91-years-old, the notable actress is currently doing voiceover work as Mrs. Puff in SpongeBob SquarePants. After the show ended, Catlett also appeared on episodes of That’s So Raven, Glee and Desperate Housewives. Despite her respectable age, Mary Jo has made it clear on several occasions that she loves acting and does not intend on retiring anytime soon.

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Threatened Their Lives

The Ku Klux Klan sent life-threatening messages to Conrad Bain and Todd Bridges, both sealed in wax by a Grand Dragon and marked with the hate group’s symbol.

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The Show Must Go On

Although it was time to say goodbye from everyone’s favorite TV show, some refused to part with the series that made them laugh, cry, and spend their leisure time. It was incomprehensible that Diff’rent Strokes would cease to exist just like that, so a new spinoff show was made: The Facts of Life. Additionally, an animated series titled The Gary Coleman Show added to Cartoon Network and its plot was made relevant and appropriate for a younger age group.

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