Which ‘What’s Happening!!’ Cast Members Are Still Alive?
ABC sitcom What’s Happening!! ran from August 5, 1976, to April 28, 1979. Created and written by Eric Monte, the series detailed the lives of three working-class African-American teenagers living in Watts, an LA neighborhood.
After its cancellation, What’s Happening!! got a sequel following the main character, Raj Thomas, a fledgling writer who runs a restaurant to provide for himself and his wife. The sequel ran from 1985 to 1988. After its conclusion, the cast moved on to other projects. But which actors from What’s Happening!! are still alive? Find out.
Ernest Lee Thomas played Raj on ‘What’s Happening!!’ and its sequel
Ernest Lee Thomas became a high-profile TV star thanks to his involvement with the show. During What’s Happening!!‘s run, he landed roles in A Piece of the Action, The Brady Bunch Hour, and Baretta. He was also one of the two actors to be considered for the role of Kunta Kinte in Roots, which LeVar Burton eventually received.
Thomas took a six-year hiatus from acting and returned by reprising his character in What’s Happening!!‘s sequel, What’s Happening!! Now. He has since appeared in The Steve Harvey Show, In The Heat of the Night, Malcolm X, and Everybody Hates Chris. He is 73 years old today.
Haywood Nelson was the youngest member of the trio
Before his role as Dwayne on What’s Happening!!, Haywood Nelson appeared on If You Give A Dance, This Property Is Condemned, and had a guest stint on Sanford and Son. His turn on What’s Happening!! made him one of the first Black teen idols and heartthrobs.
After What’s Happening!! ended, Nelson starred in The White Shadow and reprised his role in What’s Happening!! Now. At the time, he was studying Architectural Design and Electronics Engineering. Nelson turned 62 on March 25, 1960.
Frederick Stubbs played the popular character, Rerun
Frederick Stubbs was the comedic member of the trio. He was often seen spotting a red beret and suspenders. He earned the moniker “Rerun” because he kept repeating all his classes in the summer. Stubbs’s character became so popular that he changed his middle name to Rerun.
He reprised his role in the sequel but was fired after one season for requesting more money than his costars. Stubbs struggled with substance and drug abuse issues during his life. In 2003, he was found dead in his home in LA. He died of natural causes at 52.
Danielle Spencer played Raj’s money-loving sister, Dee
When fans first meet Dee, she is a rude little girl who goes to any lengths to make money, even resorting to blackmail. As the show progresses, her character grows up and becomes more likable. During the show’s second season, Danielle Spencer and her stepfather were involved in a car crash that resulted in her father’s death and left her in a coma for nearly a month.
After she recovered, Spencer and her mother relocated to Africa for a while. She returned and pursued veterinary medicine, becoming a veterinarian in 1996. She has since published a book about her life as a child actor but has mostly remained out of the spotlight.
Mabel King played Raj and Dee’s mother
Mabel Thomas (Mabel King) was the voice of reason in the show. As a divorced mom of two, she worked hard to provide for her children and raise them well. King left the show after disagreeing with the producers about the direction her character was taking.
She went on to work on The Jeffersons, Scrooged, and Dead Men Don’t Die. The actor’s diabetes resulted in amputating her feet and one of her arms. She died in 1999, aged 66.
Shirley Hemphill was a waitress at Rob’s Place
Shirley Hemphill played the brash waitress, Shirley, at Rob’s Place, where the three boys frequently hang out. In the sequel, she ran the restaurant with Raj after he bought half of it. After What’s Happening!!‘s cancellation, Hemphill landed her own sitcom, One In A Million. She also appeared in Martin and performed stand-up.
On December 10, 1999, Hemphill was found dead in her home with the cause of death listed as kidney failure. She was 52 years old.