Actor and star of Diff'rent Strokes;
Born: February 4, 1923; Died: January 14, 2013.
Conrad Bain, who has died aged 89, was a jobbing theatre and film actor who found stardom in the television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, in which he played a benevolent millionaire who adopts two African-American brothers. He was often overshadowed by the child actor Gary Coleman whose catchphrase was "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" but the show was a big success for him in the middle of his career and was a hit in the US and the UK.
He was born in Alberta, Canada, and after serving in the Canadian army during the Second World War, studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He got his first TV role, on the drama series Studio One, while still studying there and made his New York stage debut in The Iceman Cometh in 1956.
He went on to appear in a number of television series, including the cult 1960s show Dark Shadows, and films such as Woody Allen's Bananas, but it was while auditioning for the 1971 movie Cold Turkey that he was spotted by director Norman Lear for the TV comedy Maude starring Bea Arthur. Bain played Arthur's doctor neighbour and became so convincing that a woman once stopped him in an airport seeking medical advice.
When Maude ended in 1978, Bain went straight into Diff'rent Strokes as Manhattan widower Philip Drummond who promises his dying housekeeper he will raise her sons, played by Coleman and Todd Bridges. The show touched on serious themes but was known better as a family comedy that drew most of its laughs from Coleman.
Diff'rent Strokes ran for eight seasons and became notorious in later years for the difficulities some of its young stars faced in their private lives. Coleman, who died in 2010, had financial and legal problems in addition to continuing ill health from the kidney disease that stunted his growth and required transplants. Bridges and Dana Plato, who played Bain's teenage daughter, both had arrest records and drug problems, and Plato died of an overdose in 1999 at age 34.
After Bridges started to put his drug troubles behind him in the early 1990s, he said Bain had become like a real father to him. Bain married artist Monica Sloan, who died in 2009. He is survived by three children, Jennifer, Kent and Mark.
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