I was deeply saddened to hear about the recent passing of eighty nine year old actor, Conrad Bain, who despite having been in showbusiness since 1952, was best known for his role as Phillip Drummond in late 1970s American sit-com, Diff’rent Strokes. Another part of my childhood has sadly gone forever.
Bain, was already familiar to United States audiences for his role as Dr. Arthur Harmon in the 1970s series Maude which also starred Bea Arthur. However, it was his role as the Park Avenue millionaire and widowed father in Diff’rent Strokes which catapulted Bain into the arena of international fame. The ground breaking sit-com focused on two brothers from Harlem who were adopted by Bain’s character and the show was significant in handling taboo subjects such as child abuse; racism and illegal drug use. Unusual for a comedy series but the show’s writers ensured that it was dealt with in a sensitive manner.
I remember watching Diff’rent Strokes as a child when it was compulsive early evening viewing in our household. Admittedly, it was the late Gary Coleman who stole the show as the cheeeky, wise cracking Arnold but it was only when I was older that I could appreciate Bain’s portrayal of the protective and kindly father. And who knows, maybe Bain’s was an inspiration for many real life fathers on how to be a loving yet firm dad.
Sadly, Bain’s outlived two of his three screen children as both Dana Plato, who played his on-screen daughter, Kimberley, and Coleman both passed away at tragically young ages. So now three quarters of the original core cast have passed onto sit-com heaven but at least Bain lived to a grand age of almost 90. It’s comforting to know that in real life, Conrad Bain was a lot like the the loveable man we watched on screen, even in so far as having a close bond with his three on-screen children. As years went by, Diff’rent Strokes became more famous for the real life troubles of the three Drummond kids but Bain was reluctant to discuss his co-stars’ problems due to his affection for them.
Bain’s daughter Jennifer told TMZ, ‘He was an amazing person. He was a lot like Mr Drummond, but much more interesting in real life. He was an amazing father.’ However, Todd Bridges, who played Bain’s on screen son Willis, and is now the only surviving core cast member, hit the nail on the head when he said, “He was a really good man… He really was like Mr. Drummond. Just an all-around nice guy… I’ll truly miss that man.”
Rest in Peace, Mr. Bain. Thanks for the memories.