What "A Different World" Stars Now Say About Rumors Lisa Bonet Was "Difficult"
Originally the star of the Cosby Show spinoff, she left after the first season.
In the fall of 1987, when The Cosby Show was still on the air, a spinoff that followed Denise Huxtable to the fictional institution of higher learning Hillman College, made its debut. But while A Different World was initially intended to revolve around Lisa Bonet's character, by the second season, the actor and Denise were gone, and the sitcom was retooled to feature other new and returning cast members. Obviously, this was pretty big entertainment news at the time—The Cosby Show was a massive hit and Bonet was already a star—so rumors began to fly about why she left A Different World so soon into what would be a six-season run. Some of those rumors blamed Bonet for being "difficult" to work with.
In a 2021 oral history, stars and creatives from A Different World weighed in on the big shakeup, the controversy behind the decision, and what Bonet was really like. Read on to find out what they said.
Bonet was in a high-profile relationship at the time.
Bonet met rocker Lenny Kravitz at a New Edition concert in 1985, and while their relationship wasn't romantic at first, they eloped in 1987, when she was 20. By the next year, she was pregnant with their only child, Zoë Kravitz, who was born Dec. 1, 1988.
Bonet and Kravitz's marriage ended in 1993, but they remained co-parents and friends. Kravitz even became close to his ex-wife's second husband, Jason Momoa, who Bonet split from earlier this year. Zoë, of course, went on to follow in her mother's acting footsteps, starring in projects like The Batman and Big Little Lies.
Her pregnancy was a problem for Cosby.
There has been a lot of talk over the decades since The Cosby Show was on the air that Bonet often clashed with Bill Cosby. Cosby also created A Different World, and while some of the creative team on the college-set show thought that Bonet's pregnancy opened up a new, interesting, and relatable story for her character, he reportedly shot down the idea of having Denise be a pregnant student.
In a 2015 interview with the Archive of American Television, showrunner Debbie Allen described going to Cosby with Bonet's news and trying to sell him on writing the pregnancy into the show. "And I explained to him how I wanted to use it on the show because that would be a great thing. To see a girl who's [this] upper class kid, having a baby, not married because she didn't want to be married … and the girls could root for her," she said.
Allen added that later, Cosby went to her and said, "You know what Debbie? No. She's pregnant, Denise Huxtable is not pregnant, Lisa Bonet is pregnant, not Denise. So no … no you can't have it, no we're not gonna do it, no."
Lenny Kravitz shares a similar version of that story in his 2020 memoir, Let Love Rule.
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But there are still rumors about her behavior on the set.
For Vanity Fair, several stars, creative team members, and famous fans of A Different World participated in an oral history of the influential show. While the publication notes that Bonet did not respond to requests to be a part of it as well, the conversation obviously touched on her and Denise—and the gossip that abounded after she was fired from the show.
"Lisa doesn't get enough credit for A Different World," Darryl M. Bell, who played Ron, told Vanity Fair. "It was all because of her popularity that Mr. Cosby had the idea to do this spinoff. And I know it was a lot of pressure, particularly when she and Lenny started dating. The amount of press and paparazzi that hounded and followed them… they were 20-year-old kids. Anyone who has suggested that Lisa was unprofessional or difficult to work with, it's just not true."
Jasmine Guy, who played Whitley, added, "I felt like Lisa was diminished in her ability to look natural. Everybody said, 'Well, that's just her.' Do you know how hard it is to make your reality truth? In front of a camera?"
Cree Summer, who joined the cast in Season 2 as Freddie, said that she and Bonet "became soul sisters" at first sight and noted that she is Zoë's godmother.
No one in the piece shared any negative memories about working with Bonet.
The show underwent massive changes after Bonet left.
Bonet, who would return to The Cosby Show after welcoming her daughter, wasn't the only casualty of the first season of A Different World. The show also parted ways with Marisa Tomei, who played Denise's roommate Maggie, and Loretta Devine, who played grad student Stevie. New cast members were added, others were promoted, and the show began to focus more on other characters, including Whitley and Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison).
"[The creators] wanted to go in a different direction culturally, which meant Marisa was also gone," Dawnn Lewis, known to fans as Jaleesa, recalled to Vanity Fair. "She and Lisa are incredible women, and they were so much fun to work with. It was sad for me—because we had started this journey together—for them to not be there anymore."
From Season 2 on, with Allen in the driver's seat, A Different World became more true-to-life and is still celebrated for tackling sensitive subjects that other comedies wouldn't touch.
"No one had ever seen a Black college depicted, no one had seen that range of Black people—of every walk, of every socioeconomic background, of every complexion," said writer and executive producer Susan Falles-Hill. "We're always being told what we are and what we're allowed to be, and on A Different World, we just were."