Conrad Bain, the character actor best remembered for his role as the wealthy patriarch with a heart of gold on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, died on Monday in Livermore, CA, according to Bain’s family via TMZ. No cause of death was given. He was 89.
Born on February 4, 1923, in Alberta, Canada, Conrad Bain studied acting at the esteemed American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York (comedian Don Rickles was a classmate). After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen a few years later, Bain took his acting skills and kicked around Broadway theatrical productions for a while before landing successful roles in the 1970s. After appearing in a few comedies like Woody Allen’s Bananas and the film Lovers and Other Strangers, he found success as the erudite rich doctor, who was the constant thorn in Bea Arthur’s side in the sitcom Maude. That adult-themed sitcom was a smash hit for CBS during 1972 to 1978, and Bain was a constant and consistent highlight of the program.
But Bain’s biggest success was to a younger generation as Phillip Drummond on Diff’rent Strokes. Adopting two inner city ghetto children, and also raising a biological daughter on the show, albeit in a very rich atmosphere as the character of Drummond was an extremely successful businessman, he still tutelaged his children about wholesome values and not to get into the trappings of peer pressure and other various plot outlines of that stripe. The program was successful, but also marred by tragedies after its production had ended in the early 1980s as cast members Dana Plato and Gary Coleman both died under tragic circumstances and the sole surviving member of the main cast, Todd Bridges, had various scrapes and run-ins with the law in his personal life. Throughout all that, Bain remained a calming figure both in the media, his physicality and demeanor. Bain seemed like Phillip Drummond in everything he did post- and even pre-Diff’rent Strokes after that program moved into television legend and folklore, something even mentioned by his daughter, who told TMZ that “He was an amazing person. He spoke a lot like Mr. Drummond, but was much more interesting in real life. He was an amazing father.”
Not only that, Bain seemed to be an amazing person as well, at least on television. But sometimes in art, it truly does imitate life. Bain is survived by his aforementioned daughter and three sons, and his twin brother, Bonar Bain. RIP Conrad, thanks for making TV a bit more watchable back then, and now.
RIP Conrad Bain
February 4, 1923 – January 14, 2013