A Different World
The late ’80s sitcom about students at a historically black university was much more than a Cosby Show spinoff. When producer Debbie Allen came on to helm the show’s second season, it flourished into a portrayal of life on HBCU campuses that tackled important social issues.
In the 30 years since A Different World premiered on NBC on Sept. 24, 1987, some cast members have gone on to create huge entertainment careers for themselves. Click through to find out who!
Lisa Bonet (Denise Huxtable)
As the lead of the first season of the Cosby Show spinoff, Bonet played the second-born wild child of Cliff Huxtable who enrolls at a fictional HBCU in Virginia called Hillman. After one season, Bonet became pregnant with then-husband Lenny Kravitz’s baby; Cosby and some of the show’s other producers objected to the idea of a pregnant, unwed Denise, and Bonet was reportedly becoming increasingly unreliable to work with, so she was fired.
After leaving both sitcoms, Bonet divorced from Kravitz, retreating from the spotlight and focusing on raising daughter Zoe. In 1998, she returned to acting, starring in the Will Smith blockbuster Enemy of the State, then again in High Fidelity (2000). Most recently, she starred on Ray Donovan, The Red Road, and Girls.
Jasmine Guy (Whitley Gilbert)
Whitley wasn’t always going to be the main character of A Different World; Guy’s character was a supporting cast member until season 2, when she was promoted to lead after Bonet left the show. Guy later booked small roles in TV and did some voice work before landing recurring roles on Dead Like Me and K.C. Undercover. You might recognize her for her role as the witchy Bennett matriarch Sheila on The Vampire Diaries.
Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne Wayne)
Hardison played the flirty math nerd Dwayne Wayne, known for his flip-up sunglasses, who was also upgraded to lead the cast in season 2 along with Guy. Hardison had steady if not notable work in the years since, starring in budget action movies and booking guest spots on shows like Supernatural, House, and My Name is Earl. He has also starred in the Zendaya-led Disney Channel series K.C. Undercover since 2015.
Darryl M. Bell (Ron Johnson)
Bell played goofy musician and ROTC student Ron Johnson for all six seasons of the show. After A Different World ended in 1993, Bell booked a lead role as Morris Clay on the sci-fi comedy series Homeboys in Outer Space and did a three-episode arc on Cosby in 1997. He is married to another Cosby Show alum, Tempestt Bledsoe; the two appeared in the 2009 reality show Househusbands of Hollywood.
Charnele Brown (Kim Reese)
Brown came on in season 2 to play overachieving medical student and Whitley’s roommate, Kim. Since A Different World, Brown appeared in a few small guest roles on Martin, My Wife and Kids, and Girlfriends. She currently has several upcoming films in preproduction, including two which she’s producing, as well as the thriller Love You to Death with Julius Tennon.
Dawnn Lewis (Jaleesa Vinson)
Lewis played older than her counterparts on the show as 25-year-old Jaleesa, who enrolls at Hillman after a failed marriage. In the five seasons she appears, she’s a bold, mature figure who helps guide her schoolmates and friends. Lewis left the show to play Robin Dumars on another TV series, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. She has had regular voice work since then in Futurama, Spiderman, and The Cleveland Show. She played Melba Early in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls, as well as small roles on One Tree Hill, Days of Our Lives, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. She currently recurs on Major Crimes as Patrice Perry.
Cree Summer (Freddie Brooks)
Summer played Freddie, Jaleesa’s roommate and the love interest of many a co-ed at Hillman. You might not have seen Summers in anything since A Different World, but you’ve probably heard her. She’s had an illustrious voice career, voicing characters on cartoons like Sonic the Hedgehog, Batman Beyond, Rugrats, Danny Phantom, and most recently, Voltron. Summer has also enjoyed some sucess as a musician; she opened for the tour of her friend Lenny Kravitz, who also produced her first solo album.
Lou Myers (Vernon Gaines)
Myers played a grumpy Vernon Gaines, owner and manager of the restaurant The Pit. He makes fast friends with fellow military man Brad Taylor and over the six seasons, several cast members work for him at one point or another. Gaines booked small roles in rom-coms in the years after A Different World, counting The Wedding Planner, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story among his credits.
Glynn Turman (Colonel Brad Taylor)
Col. Taylor, a math teacher at Hillman, was often dubbed Mr. War by his students. Turman has built an impressive career in TV and film since his A Different World days, booking recurring roles on the crime drama Big Apple, Resurrection Blvd., and as Mayor Clarence V. Royce on The Wire. He played Jeremiah Kaan on House of Lies for four seasons and won an Emmy in 2008 for his guest spot on In Treatment. He is currently filming the TV series Fly, about the first black female flight crew.
Sinbad (Coach Walter Oakes)
Oakes was the busiest man on Hillman’s campus, coaching the football, basketball, baseball, and track teams, and acting as co-director of the Gilbert Hall dorm. Sinbad served up comic relief with Oakes’ colorful personality and crazy outfits. After Sinbad left the show in 1991, he started working on his family comedy, The Sinbad Show. He starred in ’90s comedies Good Burger, First Kid, and Jingle All the Way, and did stints on Cosby and Resurrection Blvd. In addition to making tons of cameos on TV, the comedian has filmed numerous standup specials for the likes of HBO; he’s currently touring his latest set across the United States.