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'Diff'Rent Strokes' Todd Bridges is 'The Last' Living Cast Member & Faced Many Life Challenges

Pedro Marrero
Oct 28, 2021
05:30 P.M.

Todd Bridges started his acting career as a child star, and one of the shows he's known for is "Diff'rent Strokes." Bridges found a father figure in co-star Conrad Bain and explained why after his death.

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Todd Anthony Bridges was born in San Francisco, California, on May 27, 1965. At the age of six, Bridges was watching 1972's "Sanford and Son" and saw Redd Foxx's comedic abilities and knew what he wanted to do.

He pointed at the TV set and excitedly told his mother he wanted to do what Foxx was doing. At the time, Hollywood wasn't very welcoming to Black actors, but Bridges had chosen his path.

Todd Bridges at Chiller Theater Expo Winter at Parsippany Hilton on October 27, 2017, in Parsippany, New Jersey | Photo: Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Todd Bridges at Chiller Theater Expo Winter at Parsippany Hilton on October 27, 2017, in Parsippany, New Jersey | Photo: Bobby Bank/Getty Images

HOW TODD BEGAN HIS CAREER

Bridges became a pioneer for young Black actors; finding his first acting role in a Jell-O advertisement. He later appeared in more than 60 national advertisements and in 1972 he got his break-out role.

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The young star got to be the first Black child actor to get a role as a series regular on "The Waltons." He also got to star in 1974's "Little House on the Prairie" and was a guest star the following year on "Barney Miller."

Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson on season 2 of "Diff'rent Strokes" | Photo: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson on season 2 of "Diff'rent Strokes" | Photo: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

"Barney Miller" got a spin-off show in 1977 called "Fish," and Bridges was hired as a series regular starring on the show for four years. Norman Lear then wanted to create a show that crossed racial boundaries.

He started off with Gary Coleman, who was the new kid in town, and Conrad Bain, a TV veteran. Conrad suggested that Lear find someone to play the role of Coleman's character's older brother.

Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Dana Plato during "Diff'rent Strokes" season 5 | Photo: Getty Images

Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Dana Plato during "Diff'rent Strokes" season 5 | Photo: Getty Images

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Bridges was chosen for the role, and "Diff'rent Strokes" was launched to an American audience in the fall of 1978. The series was a hit and ran for eight years until its conclusion in 1986.

By the time Bridges was 15, he'd become a household name and an international celebrity. While starring on "Diff'rent Strokes," he got roles on shows like "The Love Boat," "The Facts of Life," "Hello, Larry," and more.

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EXPERIENCING RACISM

In April 2021, Bridges, now-55, confessed to Page Six that he'd experienced "extreme racism" as a child star. He said that was the most difficult part of his childhood, stating:

“Here you are doing something spectacular for people and people are enjoying it, but then you go outside and you’re treated like you’re ignorant, dumb and stupid.”

Todd Bridges poses with Conrad Bain during the TV Land Awards at the Hollywood Palladium on March 2, 2003, in Hollywood, California | Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Todd Bridges poses with Conrad Bain during the TV Land Awards at the Hollywood Palladium on March 2, 2003, in Hollywood, California | Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

CONRAD BAIN'S DEATH

In January 2013, Conrad sadly passed away at the age of 89 in his hometown of Livermore, California. His death was confirmed to People by his daughter, Jennifer Bain, who said he'd died of natural causes.

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She revealed that he'd been unconscious for several days when he passed on peacefully. Jennifer said she was with the late actor and very close to him until he died, she was able to put her ear to his heart and sing him songs.

BAIN WAS A FATHER FIGURE TO BRIDGES

One person who took Conrad's death quite hard was Bridges, who'd played his adopted son on "Diff'rent Strokes." The sole survivor of the series described the loss as heart-wrenching.

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He shared his sadness and disappointment that the late star wouldn't be around to talk to him anymore. Bridges revealed that he spoke to Conrad when he needed advice.

When Conrad met Bridges at age 12, the pair bonded instantly, and the former filled a void in the latter's life. Bridges told The Hollywood Reporter that Conrad had been a good man, adding:

“He treated me better than my own father treated me.”

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MOURNING DANA & GARY'S DEATH

Another "Diff'rent Strokes" star who passed away over the years was Dana Plato. She died at the age of 34 on May 8, 1999, by suicide from what was ruled a drug overdose.

Bridges honored her and Gary Coleman with a Twitter post in November 2019. Coleman died years later in 2010 at age 42 from an epidural hematoma, while Plato's son, Tyler Lambert, also took drugs and died by suicide.

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THE LAST SURVIVING "DIFF'RENT STROKES" STAR

Conrad, Coleman, and Plato weren't the only "Diff'rent Strokes" co-stars who've passed over the years. In August 2018, Charlotte Rae died at age 92 at her Los Angeles home after battling cancer and heart failure.

He [Todd Bridges] was acquitted of the crime, and had been clean for over two decades...

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At the time, Bridges recalled Rae as a bubbly and bright person with a lot of energy. Her death meant Bridges was the sole surviving co-star of "Diff'rent Strokes'" core cast.

UPS & DOWNS IN TODD'S LIFE

After "Diff'rent Strokes" concluded, things became difficult for Bridges. He couldn't get any work because he was typecast as his character "Willis Jackson Drummond," and he ended up getting into drugs.

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For around 10 years, there was a pause in the star's life and career. In May 2013, he appeared on Katie Couric's show, where he discussed changing his life after becoming addicted to crack cocaine and meth.

In 1989 the star faced attempted murder charges after being accused of shooting a drug dealer. He was acquitted of the crime, had been clean for over two decades, and turned his life around when he was interviewed.

Bridges is currently working as an actor, producer, and director. He and his brother, James Jr., partnered together to establish their own production company, "Little Bridge Productions."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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