Is the ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Curse Over?

Gary Coleman as Arnold on 'Diff'rent Strokes' (Photo: NBC)

Gary Coleman as Arnold on 'Diff'rent Strokes' (Photo: NBC)

One of Hollywood’s most notorious scourges, the so-called ‘Diff’frent Strokes’ ‘curse’ crept onward Friday with the death of Gary Coleman at age 42. It begs the question: Is it finally over?

The child stars that emerged from the ’80s show struggled in their adult lives, coping with emotional pain, financial woes, drugs and arrests.

With the passing of Coleman and the suicide of Dana Plato in 1999 from a drug overdose, Todd Bridges remains the sole survivor of the ‘kids’ from the cast.

Todd Bridges and Fellow Costars React to Gary Coleman’s Death

In another sad ‘Stroke’ of fate, Dana Plato’s son, Tyler Lambert, committed suicide in early May at age 25 after a self-inflicted gunshot. Tyler’s grandmother said he was taking drugs at the time of his death.

‘Diff’rent Strokes,’ the NBC sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1986 and has enduring popularity, broke mainstream color lines on network TV. It centered around a wealthy white widower (Conrad Bain) who adopted two black children.

The ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Curse, one of the most well-known Hollywood ‘curses,’ started to take hold in the 1990’s.

Desperate for work, Plato began filming soft porn and using drugs. She pleaded guilty in 1991 after a failed robbery attempt. She was arrested again in 1992 for forging a prescription and served 30 days in jail. Plato died of an intentional drug overdose in 1999.

Bridges, who published his memoir in March ironically titled ‘Killing Willis’ (a reference to his ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ character), and appeared on ‘Oprah’ in April, admitted to cocaine abuse during his twenties – and twice faced charges for violence-related crimes. Both times, Bridges got off.

Bridges was arrested in 1988 for plotting the death of a drug dealer, pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of all charges by a jury in the high-profile case, in which he was represented by Johnnie Cochran. In the second case, Bridges was charged in 1993 with stabbing a man in the chest, but the charges were dropped because of self-defense.

These days, Bridges, 45, looks to be on the straight and narrow, recently starring on the CW’s ‘Everybody Hates Chris.’ He has a son, 11, and daughter.


Before he died, Coleman personified the living curse of ‘Diff’rent Strokes.’ At 4 ft. 8 in. tall, Coleman, who had lifelong kidney disease, struggled with health issues, financial and legal matters, and multiple arrests.

Coleman’s face showed signs of deep wear, while his intense eyes bore the impression of intense inner rage. He declared bankruptcy in 1999 after a former adviser drained his trust fund, and once worked as a part-time security guard in his early 30s.

He was arrested for disorderly charges four times since 2007, three times of which were domestic disputes. He was involved in a car accident in Utah in September 2008. His lowest point may have been in October 2008, when he appeared in the right-wing spoof ‘An American Carol’ as Bacon Stains Malone, a slave. It was a cringe-worthy “poor Gary Coleman” moment.

When Coleman is laid to rest, let’s hope the ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ curse is laid to rest too.

Actor Gary Coleman Taken Off Life Support:

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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