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"Diff'rent Strokes" Co-Stars Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman Got Into a Slapping Match on Set

Bridges has also said that Coleman's father tried to get him fired from the show.

Any Diff'rent Strokes fan will remember Gary Coleman's famous catchphrase, "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis," but in real life, it seems that he and his TV brother had some stronger words for each other. Coleman and Todd Bridges co-starred on the '80s sitcom as Arnold and Willis Jackson. And while they got along great when the show began, their relationship soon took a turn, according to Bridges.

When Diff'rent Strokes premiered in 1978, Coleman was 10 and Bridges was 13. The sitcom is about two Black brothers who are adopted by a wealthy white widower named Phillip (Conrad Bain) and raised alongside his daughter, Kimberly (Dana Plato). For the first couple of seasons of the show, Coleman and Bridges were buddies, but Bridges says that Coleman was eventually turned against him, and that they didn't speak outside of filming for the rest of the series' eight-season run. Bridges has also said that at one point, a disagreement between them turned physical on set.

Read on to find out what Bridges has shared about his late co-star.

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Bridges claims Coleman's father caused the problem.

Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges filming "Diff'rent Strokes" circa 1980
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In a 2010 interview with Oprah Winfrey that took place a month before Coleman's death, Bridges opened up about his relationship with his TV brother.

"The first two years, we did everything together. We played like kids. We had fun," Bridges said. But, he said that by the third season, their friendship soured because of Coleman's father, Willie Coleman.

"Willie Coleman came down and changed everything, didn't allow him to play with me, said because I was Black—one of the reasons," Bridges claimed. "This is why Gary has such a hatred for himself, because, you know, he didn't like Black people. He was told he couldn't hang out with us, we were good for nothing."

He also claimed Coleman's father pumped up his ego.

Todd Bridges, Dana Plato, Gary Coleman on the set of "Diff'rent Strokes" circa 1980
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In the same Oprah interview, Bridges explained that Willie hired a bodyguard for his son and "was like, 'The star is here. Everybody back up.'" From that point, Bridges said, "It became very separate. It became us versus him."

In his 2010 book, Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted,  Bridges wrote that Coleman became difficult to work with at that point. "This was the place I loved more that anywhere else in the world, and he was ruining it," Bridges wrote (via Showbiz Cheat Sheet).

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They got into a physical fight.

Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman on "Diff'rent Strokes"

Also in his book, Bridges wrote that a confrontation between himself and Coleman became physical. At this point, they would have both been teenagers. Bridges said he told Coleman, "Come on Gary," in regards to his behavior, and that Coleman told him to shut up in response. He recalled telling Coleman that he couldn't speak to him that way, and claimed Coleman then struck him.

"He didn't have a comeback for that, so he slapped me. My cheek stung where he had hit me. I slapped him back," Bridges wrote. Bridges said he walked away at that point so as to not take the fight further. They stopped speaking after that.

Bridges believes the Colemans tried to sabotage his career.

Todd Bridges at the premiere of "Truth Be Told" in 2019
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Bridges wrote in his book that he believes Willie tried to have him fired from Diff'rent Strokes.

"The show was about two brothers, Arnold and Willis, and it wouldn't work without me," he wrote. "But they took me out of something like four shows that season to punish me."

Bridges also noted that he thinks that Coleman was behind him not being in the final two episodes of the series and perhaps also the reason why he didn't cameo on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alongside other cast members.

"A few years later, he and Conrad did a cameo on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I was under the impression that I was supposed to make an appearance, too, but learned that I was cut out of the script at the last minute," he wrote.

They made peace before Coleman's death.

Gary Coleman, Conrad Bain, and Todd Bridges at the 2003 TV Land Awards
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

According to Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Coleman and Bridges made up years later. Coleman died in May 2010 at age 42. Of his co-star's death, Bridges told Access Hollywood, "I am deeply saddened by Gary's death. May God give him peace."

He also told The Insider (via Essence), "I will choose to remember him as the funny, smart little kid who joked around, who had fun, who roller skated with me, [who made] club treehouses [with me] in our dressing rooms. That's how I'm going to remember Gary." He went on to attend a memorial for Coleman.

Bridges, 57, is now the only surviving main cast member from the show. Plato also died young, at age 34 in 1999.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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