It was one of the most successful American sitcoms of the late 1970s and 1980s and made Gary Coleman and the often repeated line “What you talkin’ about, Willis?” famous with television viewers around the world.
Diff’rent Strokes’ focused on two black kids from Harlem, Arnold Jackson and older brother Willis, who are welcomed into the family of wealthy New York businessman Philip Drummond and his daughter when their mother, his housekeeper, passes away.
Its three young stars – Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato – soon became wealthy but the real cost of their childhood fame is revealed in Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff’rent Strokes which airs on True Movies (DStv Channel 138) on Tuesday, March 29, at 20h45.
And it isn’t a cute, pretty or funny story as both Coleman and Bridges reveal in the film, giving their sides of the story.
“Show business”, says Coleman, “didn’t ground me up, but I am well chewed.”
After the series ended, Coleman sued his parents and manager for blowing his multimillion dollar trust fund and later filed for bankruptcy
Things were worse at a time for Bridges. He got into drugs, was arrested repeatedly and charged with a wide range of crimes.
The member of the original threesome who does not appear in Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff’rent Strokes is Dana Plato. Arrested for robbing a store with a toy gun in 1991 and serving time in jail for forging Valium prescriptions in 1992, she died of a drug overdose in 1999.
After the making of Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff’rent Strokes, tragedy struck again. Coleman died of an epidural hematoma at the age of 42.
FYI: The biopic stars Bobb’e J. Thompson, John Innes and Teryl Rothery.
True Movies is aired in South Africa on DStv Channel 138 and is available to DStv premium customers.