Television has lost a star of one of its most popular situation comedies from the 1970s.
Lethbridge native Conrad Bain, who first gained stardom in "Maude," died Wednesday at the age of 89 from natural causes at his home in Livermore, California.
After a long run from 1972-'78 on Maude starring as Rue McClanahan's TV husband Arthur Harmon, Bain was given a starring role in "Diff'rent Strokes," as Philip Drummond, the adoptive father of two black children including Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman and a white sister, Dana Plato, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 34 in 1999.
Coleman died in 2010.
Bain and his identical twin brother Bonar were born Feb. 4. 1923 in Lethbridge to wholesaler Stafford Harrison Bain and his wife Jean Agnes. Bonar once played the twin brother of Bain's character on "Maude" and as Conrad's evil twin on a 1981 episode of SCTV.
When reached by email, Bain's daughter Jennifer - a postmodern American painter whose work has been widely exhibited in California - said she knew virtually nothing about her dad's formative years in Lethbridge. Jennifer is one of three children Bain had with his wife Monica, who died in 2009. He is also survived by sons Kent and Mark.
Longtime Lethbridge resident J.C. Peat recalled growing up with the twins and their younger brother Gordon, who he was especially close to.
The Bains lived a block east of the old Spud Nut shop in south Lethbridge and the twins grew potatoes on an acreage on 16 Avenue South near what is now the Seventh Day Adventist Church to raise money to pay for their dentistry education at the University of Alberta, said Peat.
Peat, whose grandfather William Stafford opened the first mine in Lethbridge, felt connected to the Bains in part because their father's first name was Stafford. The elder Bain worked for Plunkett and Savage, a distribution company who the twins sold their potatoes to for their tuition money.
George Mann's book "Theatre Lethbridge" recalls that the Bain brothers went to both the Bowman and Central elementary schools.
After enrolling at Western Canada High School in Calgary, Conrad studied drama under Calgary theatre legend Betty Mitchell with a performance in her 1942 production of "Our Town" earning him a scholarship to study at the Banff School of Fine Arts.
He then, according to Mann's book, enlisted in the Canadian Dental Corps and wrote, directed and starred in a play for the 33rd Company.
He spent most of the Second World War working in internment camps here and Medicine Hat. After the war, he helped found Workshop 14 in Calgary with Mitchell and other of her students.
When the twins worked at the local internment camp, Peat saw them regularly and recalls Conrad showing him a radio German PoWs had fashioned out of toothbrushes.
"They were blond-haired twins. I envied them for that," said Peat, whose friend Gordon became a doctor and coroner.
Bain later enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in and after marrying Monica Marjorie Sloan in 1945, became a naturalized American citizen a year later.
He made his stage debut in a production of "Dear Ruthâ in 1947 and made his off-Broadway debut in 1956 as Larry Slade in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh."
After years in stage productions, he was given recurring roles on daytime soaps "Dark Shadows" and "The Edge of Night."
After "Diff'rent Strokes" ended its run in 1986, Bain had one other TV series, "Mr. President," starring opposite George C. Scott and also had roles in several films including "Postcards from the Edge." Peat remembers turning on the television and seeing Bain in "Maude" and saying "I know that guy - he's my buddy!"