Stars From The Wonder Years You Didn't Know Died

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"The Wonder Years" was one of those television shows from the '80s and early '90s that people today remember fondly. It was all anyone was talking about while it was on — especially when it came to the will they/won't they kiss moment between Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper. Of course, it was much more than that, as it offered a bit of nostalgia for those who grew up in the 1960s and early '70s.

It's been decades, but "The Wonder Years" has returned to television via a 2021 reboot. While there's plenty of news about the show, fans of the original can't help but think back on it with nostalgia. After all, that's what "The Wonder Years" is all about. Looking back at those episodes from the '80s and '90s brings back a lot of good memories about the characters and actors who brought them to life

The show went off the air in May 1993, so more time has passed in real life than did on the show. It's been three decades since "The Wonder Years" graced America's television screens for the last time. Sadly, this means that many of the people who made the show such a hit have since died, and more of them have likely passed than most people realize. These actors all brought something to the table to make "The Wonder Years" special.

Dustin Diamond

Dustin Diamond is best known for playing Samuel "Screech" Powers in "Saved by the Bell." He played that role throughout the series following Screech's introduction in the short-lived "Good Morning, Miss Bliss." In-between those series, Diamond appeared on "The Wonder Years" as Joey Harris in the episode "Loosiers." He returned the following season to play a different character with the same first name, Joey Lapman, in the episode "Glee Club." Both appearances were little more than distractions from playing Screech, which he did for quite some time.

Playing Screech became a full-time job for Diamond, who reprised the role in two made-for-TV movies and two more series: "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" and "Saved by the Bell: The New Class." When his time playing Screech was at an end in 2000, Diamond fell into a trap familiar to many child stars, and he struggled to find work. He appeared as himself in various reality television programs and had some financial problems that led him to sell T-shirts to save his home (via Today). Diamond had varying degrees of success trying to get his career going. Problems with the law and other issues kept him from progressing, and a difficult relationship with the cast didn't improve matters.

When he was 44, Diamond went to the hospital complaining of pain throughout his body due to shingles. An examination found that he was in late-stage-four small cell carcinoma of the lungs. He underwent one round of chemotherapy days later but died less than a month following his diagnosis

Wendel Meldrum

Wendel Meldrum began her acting career somewhat later in life, after she had been a dancer. However, that didn't stop the Canadian from landing roles on more than two dozen television series. She showed up in some films over the years, but the small screen was where she made her mark. She played Miss White (later Mrs. Heimer) on "The Wonder Years" for six episodes. Meldrum became the target of Kevin Arnold's juvenile affection, which (thankfully) wasn't reciprocated. While she didn't exactly have much name recognition from that role, she did enter the zeitgeist after "The Wonder Years," thanks to an appearance on "Seinfeld," where her character, Leslie, introduced the infamous puffy shirt. She returned for the "Seinfeld" finale to reprise her role five years later.

Meldrum's greatest success came shortly before the end of her life via the television series "Less Than Kind." She played Anne Blecher, the matriarch of the series' family, on the show. Meldrum's performance earned her numerous accolades, including nominations and wins for the Canadian Screen Awards and the Canadian Comedy Awards. In addition to acting, Meldrum was an accomplished writer, having published "What is a Woman?: ...Because It's Absurd to Be One on Planet Earth, Etc." in 2014.

Meldrum stopped acting professionally in 2014, so her activities between then and her death in January 2021 aren't known. She died after a brief unspecified illness at the age of 66.

David Huddleston

David Huddleston had a long and prolific career, beginning acting in 1960 when he was 30 years old. Huddleston didn't get into the profession right away due to a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft engine mechanic. After his service was complete, he studied the craft, which helped him become a widely-recognized character actor. On "The Wonder Years," Huddleston played Grandpa Arnold for three episodes. Kevin Arnold described him as "Hercules in bifocals. Superman in suspenders. He was ageless. Timeless. One man in a million. You could always count on him." Grandpa Arnold was fond of strolling into town to offer his grandchildren sage wisdom and gifts.

Outside of the series, the actor was all over the place, and odds are, even if you never caught him in "The Wonder Years," you've seen him in something. In 1985, Huddleston became the face of Santa Claus for a generation of moviegoers via "Santa Claus: The Movie." He had a prominent role in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," but most folks these days recognize him from the time he played the eponymous "Big Lebowski" in the Coen Brothers cult classic. Huddleston spent most of his career jumping from the small screen to the silver screen and back again, never really settling on one of the other.

Huddleston continued working as long as he could, though he was largely retired by 2009. In 2016, he died of kidney and heart disease at the age of 85.

Maxine Stuart

Maxine Stuart began her long and illustrious career on Broadway, where she appeared in numerous productions, including "Western Waters" and "A Goose for the Gander," among others. After she married, she picked up and moved to Hollywood. In 1953, she landed a role on "Follow Your Heart," which kept her fairly busy with more than 100 episodes. Her success on television continued throughout the 1950s and '60s, thanks to an appearance on "The Twilight Zone" and other popular series, including "Perry Mason" and "The Fugitive." It didn't take long for her to make the leap onto the silver screen in "Private Benjamin" and several other films, but her real talents were in television.

While she appeared on dozens of programs, many of which had her return multiple times, she only appeared in a single episode of "The Wonder Years." Stuart played Mrs. Carples in "Coda," and she knocked it out of the park. She was honored with an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. "'The Wonder Years' was wonderful," Stuart said in a Television Academy Foundation interview. "That was wonderful. I played the piano teacher, and I got a little nomination for it, and that was nice." The actor enjoyed attending the Emmys with her husband, and her nod made it into her obituary.

Stuart continued working until she was in her mid-80s, and she got to enjoy nearly a decade of retirement. In 2013, she died of natural causes at the age of 94.

Jean Speegle Howard

Jean Speegle Howard's acting career began in a children's theater company, which she performed in for several years before hanging it up to raise her family (via ABC News). After marrying Rance Howard in 1949, she had two sons, Ron and Clint. If those names seem familiar, you likely know of Ron Howard as a child star-turned-director and Clint as a character actor with hundreds of credits to his name. Of course, they weren't the only family members in showbusiness, because Jean returned to acting in 1985 when she played an unnamed woman in "Cocoon."

Howard's credits show 17 feature films, including a little project directed by Ron called "Apollo 13." While she enjoyed success on the silver screen, most of her work kept her busy on various sitcoms. She showed up in just one episode of "The Wonder Years," playing Kevin Arnold's mom Norma's mother, Jane Gustavson. This was toward the end of the final season, so the showrunners certainly kept Norma's folks out of sight until the last minute of the series. Howard had appearances on several other series over the years, but her career came to an end in 2000, with her final role in the film "The Hiding Place."

Howard's health began to decline, forcing her to step away from her acting career. In 2000, She died of heart and respiratory problems at the age of 73 (via ABC News).

Steven Gilborn

Steven Gilborn spent a good part of his adult life working as an actor, but before he chose that path, Gilborn earned his Ph.D. in humanities and dramatic literature, and he worked as a professor at MIT. He also taught at other prestigious institutions, including UC Berkeley and Columbia (per The New York Times). He eventually left that behind to pursue a career in acting. Gilborn appeared in close to 100 different television series between 1982 and 2007, so it's safe to say the man was prolific. He wasn't limited to the small screen either and has appeared on stage and the silver screen, though he's best known for his work in television.

He played Mr. Collins, Kevin Arnold's eighth-grade algebra teacher — a task that may have been easier for the gifted academic than his peers. Gilborn played the role in three episodes, and his performance was memorable. For those who know him outside of "The Wonder Years," he's probably best known for playing Ellen DeGeneres' father on "Ellen." Interestingly, one of his film roles, playing Father in "Alien Resurrection," also scored him a video game credit. 

Gilborn continued working until 2008 when his final performance came via an appearance in "Rodney" as Mr. Pratt. The following year, Gilborn died of cancer at the age of 72 (per The New York Times).

Ben Slack

Ben Slack's long career in television began in the early 1970s. However, his first role was in the Al Pacino classic, "Serpico." He wasn't credited in that role, where he played a nameless detective. Still, it was the beginning of a long and varied career. Through the '70s and '80s, Slack could be found popping up in just about every major series, including "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Happy Days," "and "Cagney & Lacey." When it came time to grab a role on "The Wonder Years," Slack took the part of Mr. Ermin, the so-called "Genghis Khan of lawn care. He had a lawn the size of Wyoming," Kevin Arnold thinks.

Slack appeared as the neighbor in three episodes, and each time he showed up, it became a significant moment in Kevin's life. To be fair, pretty much every moment in the show was important, which is the point of "The Wonder Years," but Mr. Ermin had a particular impact. He hired Kevin's band, The Electric Shoes, to play its first (and blessedly only) gig, so the man made a mark. When he wasn't spending time in front of cameras, Slack performed in various theaters in New York City, where he tried his hand at Shakespeare and other classics.

Slack's 40-year acting career came to an end when he retired in 2001. Sadly, he didn't get to enjoy retirement for long, as Slack died of heart failure in 2004 at the age of 67.

Pat Crawford Brown

Pat Crawford Brown spent most of her life teaching English literature at a high school in Carson, California (via the Los Angeles Times). Though she had directed entertainment for the military, Brown was already in her 50s when she decided to leave teaching behind and make a go of professional acting. It wasn't a bad move, as she quickly became quite the prolific actor. Her first notable role was on an episode of "The Twilight Zone" in 1986. From there, Brown continued landing roles on prominent television series with occasional appearances in films.

Brown didn't take on the role of leading lady, but she made an impact with walk-on and guest spots. She was already well into her career when she showed up as Mrs. Ruebner in two episodes of "The Wonder Years." Mrs. Ruebner was Kevin Arnold's guidance counselor and was instrumental in pushing Kevin to go to college. Outside of the series, Brown played a lot of side characters, but her performance as the Choir Nun in the "Sister Act" franchise landed her some memorable movie moments.

While many viewers never learned her name, most could pick Pat Crawford Brown out of a lineup thanks to her plethora of roles and her incredible range — from soap operas like "The Young and the Restless" to countless sitcoms, like "Sister, Sister" and "Lizzie McGuire." Brown retired from acting in 2012, having performed her final role on "Fred: The Show." She died following a long unspecified illness in 2019 at the age of 90.

Charles Tyner

Charles Tyner got into acting several years after returning from the European Front of World War II. He served as a combat infantryman during the conflict, and it wasn't until the 1950s that he began working as a professional actor. On stage, he performed in "Orpheus Descending" on Broadway, and it wasn't long before Tyner appeared in major motion pictures, including playing Boss Higgins in "Cool Hand Luke" opposite Paul Newman in 1967. Tyner spent most of the 1960s working in television.

The 1970s were no different, and in 1982, when telling the Sunday News how much he enjoyed his work on "Father Murphy," Tyner also said, "I really like children, flowers, and puppies." Tyner did work with children in "The Wonder Years" in 1990, after racking up dozens of credits in an already long and successful career. He played Mr. Nestor, the high school shop teacher in the series. Kevin attempted to drop his class in Tyner's first appearance on the show, but Mr. Nestor would only agree if the boy could beat him in arm wrestling. As you might guess, things didn't go the way Kevin had hoped.

Tyner returned to the show for one more episode before leaving "The Wonder Years" for good. After departing the series, he didn't have many roles, working sporadically through the 1990s with only two credits in the 21st century. Tyner died in November 2017 at the age of 92.

Paul B. Price

Paul B. Price appeared in two episodes of "The Wonder Years" as Mr. Katz, a teacher who tried to connect with his students by injecting popular song lyrics into his lesson plans. As you can imagine, it didn't go over as well as he may have wished, but he managed to break through to Kevin during his appearance at the end of the first season. Price worked as an actor from 1963 until his final role in 2011. He has 24 IMDb credits to his name and was in several stage productions. On television, he appeared in several popular series, including "Empty Nest" and "The Jeffersons," among others.

Much of his on-screen work came in the early 1970s when he played Ralph on "Sesame Street." No, that's not to say he played Ralphie, Baby Bear's parrot — he played one half of the comedy duo known as Wally and Ralph for three seasons on the show. In addition to acting, Price was a successful writer, having scripted nearly 20 episodes for numerous series, including "Laverne & Shirley," "Ferris Beuller," and "Empty Nest." He also found work as a director, with the short "1501 ½," for which he took home a prize at the 1971 Berlin International Film Festival.

Price was largely retired from his many professions in the entertainment industry by the turn of the century. He died peacefully in his home in 2012 at the age of 78.

Billie Bird

Billie Bird was the type of actor you probably saw in dozens of movies and TV series but didn't know her name. She was prolific and had a background in vaudeville. Per Variety, a touring act discovered Bird when she was a child in an orphanage. She grew up performing and took to the stage before working on "I Love Lucy" and many other television series and movies. Also musically gifted, Bird supported the troops in Vietnam throughout the '60s and '70s by traveling to the country 12 times with the USO. The actor guest-starred on "The Wonder Years" twice, though both appearances have her credited as "woman." Despite this, she holds the distinction of being the last guest to appear on the series, thanks to her moments in the show's finale, "Independence Day."

Bird's appearances on "The Wonder Years" came far closer to the end of her career than the beginning. She showed up in some movies around the same time, including "Home Alone," where she played a woman at the airport who trades her tickets to help Kevin's mother. Still, of all her many roles, she's probably best known for playing Mama on "It Takes Two" or Margie Philbert on "Dear John." "The Wonder Years" was her penultimate television appearance, with her last (and final) work as an actor coming in 1997's "George & Leo," where she played an unnamed customer.

The accomplished actor died of Alzheimer's disease in 2002, soon after she stopped acting (via Variety). Bird was age 94 when she died.