Jan. 17, 2013 at 7:27 AM ET
The death of Conrad Bain at age 89 has hit no one harder than Todd Bridges, who for eight seasons played adopted son to Bain's millionaire character Mr. Drummond on the hit NBC sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes."
Now the sole survivor of the show's core cast -- Dana Plato committed suicide in 1999, and Gary Coleman died after falling down a flight of stairs in 2010 -- Bridges says he'll miss the man who was his surrogate father both on and off the screen.
"This is probably one of the most heart-wrenching days I’ve had in a long time," Bridges, now 47, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "That Conrad’s not going to be around anymore to talk to. Whenever I needed advice, I’d call Conrad."
The two first met in 1977, when a 12-year-old Bridges -- who had already starred alongside Abe Vigoda on ABC's "Barney Miller" spinoff, "Fish" -- was cast with Bain and Coleman to star in a 20-minute presentation for NBC executives. The chemistry between the trio was so effortless, the network brass bought a full season on the spot.
"First time in history they bought 26 shows based on a presentation like that -- a balcony scene that me, Conrad and Gary worked on together," Bridges recalls.
"Diff'rent Strokes" was an instant hit with audiences, which Bridges partly attributes to the country's frayed social landscape at the time: "It was during a time that race relations were kind of poor in America, and it kind of hit home that it doesn’t matter what color you are. Whoever God puts in front of you is who you’re supposed to love," he said.
Bridges and Bain instantly bonded, as they'd both regularly show up early to work -- and the fatherly Bain filled a void in Bridges' life.
The ensuing years brought plenty of turmoil for the show's young stars, including Bridges' much-publicized addiction to crack cocaine in his 20s and an arrest for the murder of a drug dealer, for which he was later acquitted. Through it all, Bridges says, Bain was there to offer a sympathetic ear and his advice.
Eventually, Bridges got clean and had a family of his own, beginning with son Spencir Bridges -- at 15, now a busy working actor who has appeared on episodes of "House M.D." and "iCarly" and in the 2003 Eddie Murphy film "Daddy Day Care."
"When I had my son, I took him to Conrad's house and he loved him, played chess with him, called him his grandson," Bridges says. "He just really knew how to take care of people."
"I cried all day. I can’t even cry anymore. I'll truly miss that man," he adds.