Forget about being a financial advisor because we’re here to talk about the ~great~ 80’s television series, Diff’rent Strokes. For eight whole seasons, viewers followed the story of Arnold, Willis, Phillip, and Kimberly – now we don’t want to give away anything else because maybe, just maybe, you haven’t seen the show yet! Well, first of all, you should! Secondly, total spoiler alert below! Take a look at 25 surprising facts about Diff’rent Strokes that you (probably) didn’t know before.
Theme Song Master
Turns out that Alan Thicke, or as he’s best known Jason Seaver on Growing Pains, spent quite a lot of time in the 80’s writing and recording music for various television shows. Furthermore, not only did he pen the theme song for Diff’rent Strokes, but he also sang the song too!
Tweak Here and There
Diff’rent Strokes writer Ben Starr confirmed that it was scripted for Arnold to say, “What are you talking about, Willis?” Although as soon as Coleman read the line, he made a little change, the incredible, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” Furthermore, writers tried to tread carefully and not overuse the phrase but that wasn’t the case, in fact by the late 90’s Coleman was so tired of that line that he actually refused to say it.
Now we’re no financial advisor but we can only assume that the idea to produce Diff’rent Strokes was a well thought out one. However it turns out that NBC originally wanted to film a pilot for Little Rascals, but that idea fell through. Instead the idea behind the show was created with Conrad Bain, who played Phillip Drummond, as the main character. Furthermore, as soon as the show hit the big screen, Arnold Jackson turned out to be quite the star, which forced the show’s writers to make some heavy changes.
Not A Fan
Conrad Bain received many harassing letters from KKK members because they didn’t like the fact that his character on show adopted two black children. Moreover, Todd Bridges also received threatening letters from KKK members.
For all of the show’s eight seasons Gary Coleman portrayed the one and only Arnold Jackson. Now Coleman earned over $17 million for his role, but unfortunately his parents spent his entire fortune. Then in 1989, Coleman sued not only his parents but also his business manager, as he claimed both parties misappropriated his hard earned money. Coleman was awarded $1.3 million in 1993.
As soon as Diff’rent Strokes saw ratings sky rocket, NBC decided to create a spinoff series known as The Facts of Life. Therefore The Facts of Life starred the Drummond’s housekeeper, sweet ol’ Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), as the housemother to an all girl’s private school.
We can thank the late, great legendary boxer Muhammad Ali for inspiring the show’s title. During a 1966 interview, Ali said, “Different strokes for different folks.” Before the producers chose that name, they originally thought of naming the show 45 Minutes from Harlem.
Game of Life
Sadly after the show wrapped up back in 1986, Dana Plato struggled quite a bit in her personal and work life. Plato made many horrible financial mistakes without a financial advisor, abused drugs and alcohol, and was then arrested when she robbed a convenience store. As the store clerk phoned 911, she said to the operator, “I’ve just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes.” Just 15 minutes later, Plato returned to store she robbed and was arrested. Then in 1999, her story comes to a tragic end when she was found dead in her Winnebago motorhome, the coroner cited her death as a suicide.
Once the show wrapped up, Gary Coleman had become weary of his infamous catchphrase, “Whatchoo Talkin’ Bout Willis?” However he did agree to reprise his role as Arnold but only for the 1996 series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
If you recall, Diff’rent Strokes was one of few sitcoms that was heavily known for its “very special episodes.” The show made sure to tackle very serious and real issues like racism, illegal drug use, kidnapping, and child sexual abuse.
Turns out that the reason Gary Coleman had a short stature was because he received certain drugs when he was a kid to combat short stature a genetic birth defect, as he was born with one atrophied kidney and the other was failing. At the age of five, he received his first kidney transplant, and then another in 1984. When it looked like he needed another transportation just two years later, he instead chose dialysis. By age 14, Coleman knew he would not get taller than four feet eight inches. There was even an episode in the show where his character suffered from the same problem and had to come to terms with it.
All Grown Up
When Coleman neared adulthood, he felt quite tired of playing an adolescent onscreen. Therefore he asked, more like petitioned, the writers to age Arnold and put him in high school so he could deal with more grown up things such as dating and driving.
During a 2013 ad campaign for the wish-fulfillment of the Publishers Clearing House, they used archival footage from very old sitcoms in order to portray characters that answered the door and saw the “Prize Patrol.” In some Diff’rent Strokes footage, Arnold is annoyed to learn Willis won the million-dollar prize.
It’s a Maid’s Life
Back in season one, Charlotte Rae had appeared in every single episode as Edna Garrett, however she left the show halfway through the second season in order to star in her own spin-off, The Facts of Life. Once she left, Nedra Volz stepped up and took over as the housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker.
During seasons five and six, the show saw its ratings begin to fall, therefore many new characters were added to the storyline and to create future storylines. Characters like Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey were subsequently introduced.
Spring 1985, NBC canceled the series because of poor ratings but ABC decided to pick up the show for its eighth season. Although for similar reasons to NBC, ABC canceled the series after just 19 episodes, and on March 7, 1986 the final episode aired.
Looks like good ol’ Phillip Drummond is the only character to have appeared in every episode of the series! Furthermore we should note that Arnold Jackson missed just five episodes.
Think back to the third season when Janet Jackson played Willis’ girlfriend, Charlene DuPrey! Ahh good times. Jackson was a recurring character up until season six, when Charlene and Willis broke up, but remained friends.
With the show off air, Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Dana Plato all had a lot of difficulty in getting additional roles in Hollywood. All three would go on to also experience various legal problems while both Bridges and Plato struggled with drug addiction. In addition to that, the press and fans blamed the cast’s own personal problems and their poor careers on what was then known as the “curse of Diff’rent Strokes”.
Made for TV
Fox did a one-hour television movie broadcast in 2000, After Diff’rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped. This film actually starred quite a lot of unknown actors and focused a lot on Dana Plato’s life after the show and her death.
2006 was when NBC decided to air their own television drama, Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff’rent Strokes. The film told the story of the rise and decline of the sitcom’s child stars, furthermore it featured recent interviews with Coleman and Bridges. Both of whom can be seen in the final scene standing by Plato’s grave.
May 2010, Coleman was brought to his local hospital after he fell and hit his head following a seizure. Coleman was then placed on life support after he suffered from an intracranial hemorrhage, and later that month he sadly passed from complications due to his injury. He was only 42.
Todd Bridges became addicted to cocaine shortly after the show went off air. Sadly, for a few years he also ran into problems with the law and arrested multiple times. By the late 90’s however, he cleaned up his act and now travels across the United States speaking to various institutes about the dangers of drug addiction.
Round and Round
No kidding, eh, but Gary Coleman frequently appeared in many different television shows in the 80’s, such as The Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, and Amazing Stories.
Dixie Carter, played a recent divorcee and aerobics instructor known as Margaret “Maggie” McKinney. However at the end of season seven, she left the show and was replaced with Mary Ann Mobley.