Todd Bridges, the last surviving star of the 1980s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, paid a sweet tribute to his late costar Dana Plato, who would have turned 55 on Thursday.
“You were the one person I could always talk to,” Bridges, 54, tweeted about Plato, who died in 1999 at the age of 34. “You were one of my best friends. I will never forget you and love you forever. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Dana Plato R.I.P you are free my friend.”
In another tweet, he also remembered costar Gary Coleman, who died in 2010 at the age of 42. “RIP Dana and Gary,” he wrote. “I love you guys forever.”
Bridges, Plato and Coleman became household names in the 1980s as the stars of the sitcom, which centered around Arnold and Willis Jackson, two black inner city youths who were taken in by a rich white widower, Phillip Drummond, and his daughter, Kimberly.
The show was an instant hit for NBC, running for eight seasons and spawning the equally-successful spinoff The Facts of Life.
After the show ended in 1985, the three child actors struggled to find their footings. Bridges struggled with substance abuse problems, while Coleman had personal and financial problems.
Plato battled drug abuse for years, and was arrested in 1991 for robbing a video store at gunpoint. (The video store clerk famously told the 911 dispatcher, “I’ve just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on Diff’rent Strokes.”) She died of a drug overdose — later ruled a suicide — on May 8, 1999. Her death came one day after she professed to be clean during an interview with Howard Stern.
In a tweet on Thursday, Bridges said he encouraged Plato to go to rehab. “I know, what makes me so sad i talk to her two days before she passed i tried to get her into a rehab center.”
But behind the sordid headlines and Hollywood gossip, the three stars of Diff’rent Strokes remained close — although they sometimes bickered like real-life brothers and sisters.
In his 2010 memoir Killing Willis, Bridges recalled teaming up with Coleman to play pranks on the cast and crew. “I will choose to remember him as the funny, smart little kid who joked around, who had fun, who roller skated with me, club treehouses in our dressing rooms,” he said after Coleman’s 2010 death, according to Essence. “That’s how I’m going to remember Gary.”
As for Plato, Bridges acknowledged that they may have had crushes on each other as teens. “She was so vibrant and fun to be around,” he wrote in his memoir. “We’d hang out … maybe watch TV or listen to music, and make out.”
As the last remaining Diff’rent Strokes actor, Bridges said that Thursday would be a day of remembrance for him. “I will wish her a birthday wish and pray,” he tweeted. “It will be a sad day for me. To know I lost a good friend.”
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