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Fred "Rerun" Berry Biography - Selected works

happening people october november

1951-2003

Actor

Fred Berry, the portly actor best known for his comic turn as "Rerun" on the hit ABC sitcom What's Happening!! in the late 1970s, died in 2003 at the age of 52 in Los Angeles. Berry never returned to the stardom he attained early in his career, but became a minister and motivational speaker later in his life. One of his last roles was a cameo in the 2003 David Spade movie Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. "He was exactly like he was on TV—a very happy, lovable guy that made everyone laugh," Spade told People.

Born on March 13, 1951, Berry grew up in public housing in St. Louis, Missouri. He was a dancer on the long-running dance show Soul Train for a number of years, and his fleet-footed moves eventually landed him in a Los Angeles break-dance troupe called the Lockers. The group made a very early appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live during its first season in 1975. But true stardom for Berry came a year later, when he joined the cast of a new ABC sitcom called What's Happening!! The show was the brainchild of Eric Monte, who had written the acclaimed 1975 film Cooley High about African-American teens in a 1960s Chicago high school. Monte created a television series about a trio of high-school pals in Los Angeles, centered around the studious Roger "Raj" Thomas, played by Ernest Thomas.

Berry was already in his mid-twenties when cast as teenaged Freddie "Rerun" Stubbs, and he managed to win the part over the objections of the show's producers, who originally had a skinny white actor in mind. The heavy-set, easygoing character earned his "Rerun" nickname because he had to repeat all his classes during summer school. His perpetual wisecracking and disco-dance moves quickly stole the show away from Thomas and the third pal, Dwayne (played by Haywood Nelson). Berry usually sported a trademark red beret and suspenders, and his "Rerun" soon became a household name. His typical greeting to Raj and Dwayne—"Hey, hey, hey"—even entered the vernacular for a time. The show's writers began building scripts around Rerun's antics, with the plots carried along by the scrapes in which he found himself—and inadvertently, his friends—enmeshed.

Though What's Happening!! was set in the present time, there seemed little evidence of the troubles that plagued many African-American urban communities in the mid-to late 1970s. It was sometimes referred to as the black version of Happy Days, a top-rated ABC hit sitcom of the era that was set in the 1950s. What's Happening!! aired at a time, wrote San Francisco Chronicle writer Peter Hartlaub, "when television executives seemed transfixed with hip urban comedies. While other shows in that decade typecast young black men as street toughs, basketball stars and scratching-and-surviving welfare recipients, 'What's Happening!!' was about three friends who hung out at the soda shop and dealt mostly with the struggles of being a teenager."

Alas, Berry did not handle the fame and fortune well. He later said that in three years he had spent much of his earnings, and then battled substance abuse and health problems for much of his life. "I was empty inside," he told People in 1996. "I blew a million dollars on drugs, real estate, an airplane, horses, the whole nine yards." The show went off the air in 1979, but became surprisingly popular in syndicated reruns, garnering new fans every year. It returned as What's Happening Now!! in 1985, with the nearly all of the original cast, and followed their lives as adults. Rerun was now a used-car salesperson, but Berry appeared only for the first of its three seasons after a contractual dispute with the show's producers. Some of the later comic energy was supplied by a young Martin Lawrence in its final season in 1987-88.

After entering a substance-abuse treatment program, Berry struggled financially for a number of years. Film roles were few and far between. He earned money from shopping-mall appearances, and became a motivational speaker and Baptist minister in Madison, Alabama, at the Little Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church. "Today I live strictly on faith," he said in the 1996 People interview. "I have to depend on people calling me to speak." He appeared in the 1998 film In the Hood, and in Big Money Hustlas two years later, two little-seen projects. But fans everywhere still recognized him from What's Happening!! "I'm still called 'Rerun' and I love it!" he once said, according to an article in London's Guardian newspaper by Shola Adenekan. "People ask me to dance every day, no matter where I am—in the grocery store or in the bathroom." He even legally changed his middle name to "Rerun."

Berry enjoyed a bit of a comeback in the years just before his death. He appeared on the NBC series Scrubs as himself in 2001, took part in Star Dates on the cable network E! a year later, and guested on Snoop Dogg's Doggy Fizzle Televizzle on MTV. In 2003 he appeared as himself in the Dickie Roberts film with Spade. His last television appearance came just weeks before he died, on the syndicated show Classmates, which reunites former friends from their school days. Berry appeared with Charles Bradshaw, a beefy football player whom he thanked for defending him when other kids teased him because of his weight.

Berry had lost some of his excess pounds in the 1990s after learning he had diabetes. He suffered a stroke in 2003, and died on October 21 of that year. He was the father of three children, and had been married six times in all, though on two of those occasions he remarried an ex-wife.

Selected works

Films

Vice Squad, 1982.

A Stroke of Genius, 1984.

In the Hood, 1998.

Big Money Hustlas, 2002.

Bum Runner, 2002.

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, 2003.

Television

What's Happening!!, 1976-79.

What's Happening Now!, 1985-86.

At a Glance …

Born on March 13, 1951, in St. Louis, MO; died of diabetes, October 21, 2003, in Los Angeles, CA; married six times to four women; children: Portia Allen, Fred Jr.

Career: Soul Train, dancer, 1970s; The Lockers (dance troup), Los Angeles, break-dancer; actor, 1976-2003; ordained a Baptist minister and preached in Madison, AL; motivational speaker.

Sources

Broadcasting & Cable, October 27, 2003, p. 8.

Daily Variety, December 19, 2003, p. 56.

Entertainment Weekly, November 7, 2003, p. 20.

Guardian (London, England), November 7, 2003, p. 31.

Jet, November 10, 2003, p. 17.

New York Post, April 22, 2004, p. 7.

New York Times, October 24, 2003, p. C11.

People, June 24, 1996, p. 87; November 10, 2003, p. 96.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 27, 2003, p. D1.

Time, November 3, 2003, p. 24.

Times (London, England), December 4, 2003, p. 42.

—Carol Brennan

[back] Bertice Berry Biography - Built Reputation with Wit and Brains, Knew the Meaning of Hardship, Used Comic Talent to Teach

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