With new sexual allegations emerging almost daily, Bill Cosby’s career appears to be in free fall. NBC has cancelled plans for a new sitcom, while his classic hit The Cosby Show continues to be pulled from daily reruns in the wake of the allegations.
It’s a long way from the 1980s, when Cosby ruled as the most popular man on TV and the savior of the prime time sitcom. He was the sweater-wearing dad you wished you had; a funny father figure who ruled the roost with a joke and a smile. Nobody is smiling now – especially not Cosby.
But Cosby is hardly alone in his fall from TV grace. Sitcom stars have been messing up for years – either during the show’s successful run, or years removed from their fame and fortune. Here are just a few rather tragic cases...
15 Dana Plato
The poster girl for Child Stars Gone Bad, Plato lived a short and unhappy life. As Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes (1978-86), her sunny, girl-next-door persona made her a hit with audiences and a teen idol. A pregnancy late in the show’s run got her fired from the family show, though she did return infrequently.
After Diff'rent Strokes, it was all downhill for Plato. Drugs and alcohol became a problem. So did money. Plato was busted in 1991 after holding up a video store, and again the following year for forging a drug prescription. It all ended tragically in an RV in 1999 with a prescription drug overdose later ruled a suicide.
14 Delta Burke
If there was a Designing Women standout star, it was Delta Burke, who played the charming, slightly-dim Suzanne Sugarbaker. She earned two Emmy nominations for the role. But, in 1990, she did a bad thing. She publicly dissed the people she worked with, including Designing Women creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and costar Dixie Carter.
Those contentious relationships led to Burke’s dismissal in 1991. Though she has had several subsequent series – including a reprise of her Suzanne role on Women Of The House (1995) - none have been remotely successful. She still appears in guest starring roles, a far cry from her Designing Women fame.
13 Michael Richards
You can argue that Richards – best known as Kramer on Seinfeld – probably doesn’t need to work ever again. That Seinfeld syndication money has to be more than adequate. Yet there remains some doubt anyone would hire him to star in a new show after one notorious 2006 incident.
Performing at a Hollywood comedy club, Richards got angry at a group of late-arriving patrons, and proceeded to shout the N-word repeatedly at them as they heckled. Though Richards subsequently apologized and retired from stand-up, he admitted recently to Jerry Seinfeld the incident still ‘haunted’ him.
Richards did return to sitcoms last year with a supporting role on the short-lived Kirstie, with Kirstie Alley.
12 Jeff Conway
As struggling actor Bobby Wheeler on Taxi (1978-82), Jeff Conaway received two Golden Globe nominations - but he was fired after Season Three. He claimed he left by choice, as the role wasn't offering him enough creatively. Others claim substance abuse played a part. Taxi writer Sam Simon said that, after Conaway passed out in his dressing room during filming once, the show was rewritten without his participation. Suddenly, the Bobby character seemed expendable.
Whatever the cause, Conaway’s career never recovered. He went through several trips to rehab while appearing in supporting roles on soaps and Babylon Five. In 2008, his substance abuse and chronic back problems led to a sad, angry appearance on the reality series Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. He died in 2011 as a result of pneumonia and chronic drug use.
11 Freddie Prinze
The star of Chico and The Man (1974-77) - and father of well-established actor and producer Freddie Prinze Jr. - signed a deal with NBC in 1976 that paid him $6 million. Four months later he was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 22. The rise and fall of Prinze was meteoric. Yet even while he was receiving rave reviews for his talented TV and comedy club work, he suffered from depression.
A divorce didn't help. Neither did the drugs. Some later claimed his death was accidental; that Freddie liked to play Russian Roulette. But a note announcing his intention to commit suicide suggested otherwise.
10 Mackenzie Phillips
She was a teenage star making a whopping $50,000 an episode in the late 1970s, but that all went away due to substance abuse. And it wasn't like Phillips – who claimed her musician father John first injected her with cocaine at 11 – didn’t get second chances. The producers of her sitcom One Day At A Time fired her twice, but allowed her to come back after rehab and a stint in jail. Eventually though, she would return to drugs, and stop showing up on time (or at all) for rehearsal.
Since being fired for the last time in 1982, Phillips has continued to struggle with substance abuse, worked occasionally, and appeared on Celebrity Rehab. In a shocking 2009 autobiography, she even claimed to have had an affair with her father.
9 Brett Butler
The family sitcom Grace Under Fire went from #3 in the ratings to cancelled in just three years. So what happened? Most of those in the know blame star Brett Butler, whose increasingly demanding and erratic behavior led to delays, incoherent episodes and a revolving door of writers, producers and cast members.
Butler herself has admitted she was a prima donna on set while suffering through a hefty substance abuse problem. Her third ‘break’ from the show forced ABC to just cancel Grace in 1998. Since them, Butler has struggled with her issues, and spent some time in a homeless shelter. Recently, she returned to sitcom TV on Anger Management, where she joined that other problematic sitcom star Charlie Sheen.
8 Charlie Sheen
CBS and Two And A Half Men creator Chuck Lorre knew what they were getting when they hired Charlie Sheen. The actor had a bad boy reputation that preceded the show’s 2003 debut. But the comedy proved a hit. And when Sheen’s hotel-trashing, allegedly wife-assaulting, party boy behavior failed to improve, no one seemed to care.
But after the show was put on hiatus for another rehab stint in 2011, Sheen went a little too far. He publicly attacked Lorre, calling him a “stupid little man’. He also demanded an increase on his $1.75 million per episode salary.
That was enough. Sheen was fired, and replaced by Ashton Kutcher. Sheen went on a much-ridiculed stage tour, ranted about being a ‘total bitchin’ rock star from Mars’, and condemned, praised, then condemned again the folks at Two And A Half Men.
He can currently be seen on Anger Management. The syndicated comedy is nowhere near as popular as his previous show, which continues on successfully without Sheen.
7 Suzanne Somers
Somers took on her network and lost. Big time. As peppy airhead Chrissy on the slapstick Three’s Company, Somers was the breakout star of what became known as Jiggle TV. So she demanded to be paid as such. In Season Five, she asked ABC for a raise from $30,000 per episode to $150,000 (plus 10 per cent ownership of the show’s profits). And when ABC balked, Somers boycotted several episodes.
By the end of Season Five, Somers’ role had been reduced to a segment at the end of the show in which an absent Chrissy phoned ‘home’. She shot the segments alone in what amounted to network punishment. She did not return for the next season.
Somers soon found it difficult to get work on TV (she blamed ABC blackballing). It took her five years to get back on television with the syndicated She’s The Sheriff. It lasted just two years. Since then, she’s done very well for herself with some acting (Step By Step), home shopping, and Self Help books.
6 Amanda Bynes
It’s easy to forget this troubled star was once a teen sensation, starring in such popular series as The Amanda Show and the WB sitcom What I Like About You (2002-06). A career in movies followed (Hairspray being the most successful). But then, something changed.
Bynes began acting oddly in public, culminating in setting a fire in a stranger’s driveway and multiple vehicular-related arrests. She’s tweeted and recanted claims of her father molesting her, blaming it on the microchip in her head. This fall, she was admitted to a psychiatric institution for observation for the second time, and has been placed under conservatorship.
5 Gary Coleman
You can’t blame Gary for a lack of effort. He became the cute, breakout star of the late 1970s for his turn as Arnold on the family sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (1978-86). And despite serious kidney issues – which contributed to his diminutive 4 foot 7 height – he worked long hours.
Even though he earned as much as $100,000 per episode, Coleman ended up with very little after the show wrapped. He sued his parents and manager for misappropriation of funds and won. But financial troubles continued, culminating in a 1999 bankruptcy. While he never totally gave up acting, he also worked as a mall security guard to make ends meet. In his later years, he was dogged by violent public incidents, and continuing health issues. He died in 2010 at the age of 42.
4 Lisa Bonet
Bonet played daughter Denise on The Cosby Show in its early years before moving onto the show’s college-based spinoff A Different World in 1987. Rumours persist to this day that Bonet was difficult on the Cosby set and the spinoff was a way of getting rid of her.
Bonet subsequently got pregnant, and left A Different World, eventually returning to The Cosby Show. She was fired permanently in 1991. ‘Creative differences' were cited, though Cosby himself told Jet magazine it was his fault for creating a character that ‘never developed’. Bonet continues to act, albeit sporadically.
3 Angus T. Jones
It’s unclear if Jones will ever work again as an actor. After making as much as $300,000 an episode in a ten year tenure on Two And A Half Men, Jones had a change of heart. His growing Christian faith led him to public statements in which he called the show ‘filth’ and referred to himself as a ‘paid hypocrite’ for appearing on it.
The remarks led to a reduced workload on the show – then no workload at all. He announced he was officially leaving the show this year. It seems that the highest paid teen performer in TV history might be done with television altogether.
2 Dustin Diamond
It’s questionable how much of an adult career Screech of Saved By The Bell could have had. It would have been difficult for him to rise above such an indelible character under the best circumstances. But Diamond has done little to help himself along the way. Like a lot of child stars, he has struggled to find work and has resorted to more desperate measures.
He released a sex tape in 2006 which he directed. Eww. And he adopted an angry, out-of-control persona for a series of reality show appearances – including the infamous, short-lived Celebrity Boxing. More recently, he released the over-the-top Behind The Bell, a tell-all book that alleged all manner of sexual activities between teen cast members and, quite shockingly, the producers.
That book became a recent Lifetime TV movie, though much of the shocking stuff was left on the cutting room floor. Don’t expect Diamond at any Saved By The Bell reunions.
1 Janet Hubert
This actress can’t escape her firing from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air more than 20 years ago. As rich Aunt Vivian, Hubert played it snooty and cool with great skill. But behind the scenes, she claims to have experienced 'heinous and horrible things' at the hands of star Will Smith. Hubert was fired and replaced by actress Daphne Reid in Season Five. The public reason given was breach of contract – she had gotten pregnant.
“I felt demonized, beaten up, and crucified for many, many years,” she said recently of the Smith feud and firing. Though she has worked sporadically since those days, most interviews invariably come back to that same topic – what happened between you and Will? It’s hard to move on when nobody will let you.