Celebrities | Pop Culture | TV | 80s

Murder Charges, Drug Addiction, Bankruptcy - The Tragic Lives Of The 'Diff’rent Strokes' Child Stars

The hit sitcom Diff'rent Strokes helped to popularize the "very special episodes" about serious topics that were so memorable from our childhoods.

But drug abuse and crime weren't just subjects explored on the show, they also featured in the lives of the actors who starred in Diff'rent Strokes. It turns being a child star in Hollywood isn't as glamorous as we imagined.

Todd Bridges - Willis Jackson


Bridges, who played the older of the two adopted brothers on the show, came from a family of actors, and started working in show business from a young age.

Sadly, misfortune seemed to follow Bridges throughout his career. He revealed on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 that he was sexually abused by one of his publicists at age 11. While his time on Diff'rent Strokes wasn't so bad, Bridges said he struggled to shake off the image of his character Willis for the rest of his life.

In his 20s, with acting roles few and far between, Bridges battled an addiction to crack cocaine. In 1989, he was charged with the attempted murder of an LA drug dealer.

Bridges and his lawyer Johnny Cochran.Oprah.com

The young actor hired the celebrity lawyer Johnny Cochran, who later represented O.J. Simpson, to represent him in court. After Cochran found a witness who testified Bridges wasn't present during the shooting, he was acquitted.

Bridges's career never really recovered after the trial. He competed on a number of celebrity reality shows including Celebrity Fear Factor, Skating With Celebrities and Celebrity Boxing (he beat Vanilla Ice).

Bridges today.Who Date Who

While he had recurring roles on Everybody Hates Chris and Monk, it seems Bridges is still struggling to leave Willis behind.

Dana Plato - Kimberly Drummond


Like her costars, Plato started working in Hollywood from a young age, appearing in more than 100 television commercials as a child.

She was also a gifted figure skater, who almost competed on the American Olympic team, but was forced to give up on the sport by her mother, to focus on her acting career.

While filming Diff'rent Strokes, Plato developed a drug addiction that would plague her for the rest of her life. The actress later admitted to abusing cannabis, cocaine, and the anxiety medication diazepam at just 14 years old.

Plato and her costars behind the scenes.eBay

At age 19, Plato moved in with her boyfriend, guitarist Lanny Lambert, and became pregnant. The pregnancy cost Plato her role on the family-friendly sitcom, and while she was invited back for guest spots, Plato would struggle to find acting roles for the rest of her career.

She resorted to acting in B-movies like Bikini Beach Race, posed nude in a Playboy pictorial, and later appeared in soft core porn movies.

To make matters worse, Plato lost most of her money from the sitcom in 1988, after her mother died and Lambert left her in the same week. In shock, Plato signed her power of attorney away to an accountant who disappeared with her savings.

Plato's mugshot for forging a Valium prescription.

Towards the end of her life, Plato was working at a dry cleaning shop in Las Vegas, and resorted to robbing a video store to fund her prescription drug addiction.

The day before she died from an overdose of the pain pills Lortab and Soma, Plato gave a tell-all interview on The Howard Stern Show, insisting she had been sober for ten years.

Her death was ruled a suicide. Plato was just 34 years old

Gary Coleman - Arnold Jackson

Th!nk Tank

Coleman suffered from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney condition that kept him at a tiny 4 feet 8 inches tall his entire life.

But despite what some people claim, Coleman was just 10 years old when he started acting on Diff'rent Strokes. He had already had a kidney transplant at age five, and would need another before the show ended. Coleman also needed frequent dialysis treatments.

Despite his poor health and young age, Todd Bridges remembers that Coleman was expected to work for long hours shooting his scenes. He believes that made Coleman resentful about his biggest role.

The Redlist

While Coleman's character Arnold became the show's de facto star, the actor saw almost none of the $100,000 he made per episode. Instead, his parents, their advisers, lawyers and taxes left Coleman with as little as a quarter of his earnings from the show.

Coleman even sued his parents for taking advantage of his finances. Despite winning $1.3 million in a settlement, Coleman was still forced to file for bankruptcy in 1990.

After Diff'rent Strokes ended, Coleman had a handful of small television roles and a failed run to become Governor of California in 2003.

Coleman, snapped while working as a security guard.Shared

He was well-known for working average jobs to make ends meet, including as a radio DJ, an extra, and as a security guard.

Later in life, Coleman also had a number of run-ins with the law. He was sent to jail for a pair of assault cases against fans who were pestering him in public, including for a car accident where he allegedly backed his truck into a fan who snapped a picture of him.

Coleman's mugshot for a domestic violence charge.Utah County Jail

Coleman also had a messy separation from his longtime partner Shannon Price, including a highly publicized appearance on Divorce Court where they failed to settle their differences.

While Coleman attempted suicide twice by overdosing on pills, his death in 2010 was likely caused by hitting his head after suffering a seizure at his Utah home. Coleman was rushed to the hospital but died the next day. He was 42.

It seems like growing up in the spotlight isn't as easy as we all thought.