The 'Diff'rent Strokes' curse isn't a joke
Under normal circumstances, "Diff'rent Strokes" would be remembered in the annals of TV history as an innocuous family sitcom about two disadvantaged African American brothers who are cared for by a wealthy white family. The series introduced a pint-sized charmer named Gary Coleman and his fresh-faced young co-stars to an adoring viewing audience.
But the legacy of the series, which debuted on NBC in 1978, has been clouded by the accounts of bad fortune and tragedy that befell most of the cast members after the show ended in 1986. Friday's death of Coleman days after he suffered a brain hemorrhage once again cast light on what many fans of the show call "The Diff'rent Strokes curse."
Coleman, who played Arnold Jackson, was plagued with kidney problems and would encounter numerous hardships, including a falling-out with his parents over his finances, a lackluster acting career, bankruptcy, run-ins with the law and charges of domestic violence.
Dana Plato, who played Kimberly Drummond, the daughter of the boy's guardian Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), died in May 1999 of a drug overdose. She had been arrested in 1991 after robbing a Las Vegas video store of $160, and pleaded guilty to forging a Valium prescription in 1992. Plato admitted in the late 1980s that she suffered from alcoholism.
Plato's son, Tyler Lambert, committed suicide earlier this month.
Todd Bridges, who played his brother Willis, also had brushes with the law and struggled with drug addiction as his acting career stalled. Bridges has just written a book, "Killing Willis," in which he chronicles his struggles and recovery.--Greg Braxton
Photo: Top: Gary Coleman on "Today" in 2008 (Richard Drew/AP). Bottom (clockwise): Gary Coleman, Conrad Bain and Todd Bridges pose at the Emmy Awards in September 1981 (AP Photo, file).