Conrad Bain, ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Star, Dead at 89

By Tim Kenneally


Conrad Bain, who played Philip Drummond, the wealthy white widower who adopted two young African-American brothers in the hit sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Monday, the Associated Press reports. He was 89.

Bain died in Livermore, Calif., on Monday, his daughter told the AP. She said he died of natural causes.

Born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada in 1923, Bain studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts before serving in the Canadian Army during World War II. He later picked up his studies in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which he attended with the likes of Don Rickles and Charles Durning.

Prior to finding fame on the NBC sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” which ran from 1978 until 1985, Bain honed his skills on the live stage, performing with the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival, and the Broadway  productions of Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” and Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in the 1970s.

He also appeared in Woody Allen’s 1971 film “Bananas” and the 1970 comedy “Lovers and Other Strangers.”

He also had a run as Dr. Arthur Harmon on the CBS comedy “Maude.”

The intersection of rich and poor and white and black on “Diff’rent Strokes” set the stage for primetime discussions about bigotry and understanding. The show also looked at subjects as serious as eating disorders, sexual abuse and drugs. In one memorable episode, first lady Nancy Reagan appeared to urge kids to “Just say no.”

But tragedy repeatedly befell the show’s young stars.

Dana Plato, who played Drummond’s daughter Kimberly, died of an overdose in 1999 at age 34 after well-publicized brushes with the law. Gary Coleman, who died in 2010 at age 42, faced financial difficulties later in life. Todd Bridges had a high-profile addiction to crack cocaine and several scrapes with the law. He also wrote in a recent autobiography that he was sexually abused.

Following “Diff’rent Strokes,” Bain starred in the short-lived Fox comedy “Mr. President” alongside George C. Scott and Madeline Kahn, but largely dropped off from acting after that series ended in 1988. He reprised his role as Drummond for the 1996 finale of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and played a priest on a 2011 episode of the CBS drama “Unforgettable.”