In the late 1980’s, Americans gathered around their television to catch up with the Seaver family on the wholesome family sitcom, Growing Pains. Dr. and Mrs. Seaver took care of their three children Mike, Carol, and Ben — and later a fourth, Chrissy — at their home on 15 Robin Hood Lane in Long Island, New York.
The family grew up on television for seven seasons from 1985 to 1992 and viewers nationwide watched as they dealt with all of life’s roadblocks that were thrown in along the way. Here is a look back at the beloved sitcom to make you feel like you and the Seavers still “got each other.” Read on to find out how the cast felt about working with a then-unknown Leonardo DiCaprio, how two cast members fell in love on set, and how the cast has paid tribute to Alan Thicke.
Joanna Kerns and Alan Thicke actually auditioned together for the roles of the Seaver parents and when they met, it was instant chemistry. Both Kerns and Thicke were both coming out of divorces and were newly single parents. They became great friends and their chemistry won both of them the parts on the show.
Years later, Thicke revealed that he and Kerns actually considered dating. Thicke said, “We made the very intelligent decision that the show might last longer than a relationship would, so would it be smart to just be friends and have that little bit of chemistry and preserve that, instead of going the other direction, which is fraught with peril?”
Seeing The Light
A self-proclaimed atheist through most of his teen years, Kirk Cameron became a born-again Christian at the height of his Growing Pains career at age 17. Having worked in entertainment for several years, he felt that he had everything that he could possibly want – fame and fortune.
In “How Do You Know He’s Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God,” Cameron recounts the events leading up to his conversion, saying that a man who was the father of a girl he liked, told Cameron that he had a lot, but he did not have “the Lord.” He didn’t think anything of it at first, but he still went to church with the man and realized that he needed God in his life.
Trying To Control The Show
After becoming a born-again Christian, Cameron insisted that the Growing Pains story lines needed to be rewritten to exclude anything that he thought was too adult or racy. Cameron’s over-extension of his faith on the show was at its height when he supposedly got a fellow cast member, Julie McCullough, fired.
McCullough played Julie Costello, Mike’s girlfriend/fiancée for seasons four and five. Cameron apparently insisted that producers get rid of McCullough, after he found out that she had posed nude in Playboy. Cameron accused the producers of promoting pornography and McCullough supposedly didn’t know she was getting fired until she read the script for the episode in which she was written out.
Real Life Romance
After McCullough’s departure from the show, she was replaced with a new love interest for Mike, Kate MacDonald who was played by Chelsea Noble. In 2013 Kirk reminisced on meeting the love of his life saying, “I came home and my mom said to me…’She’s even more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside. … I just want you to know, if you ever meet a girl and you get married, I hope she’s someone just like her’…Four years later, I married her.”
Noble and Cameron married in real life in 1991, just a year before the Growing Pains season finale, in which Mike proposes to Kate. They are now both born-again Christians and have six children, four of which are adopted. In recent years, they’ve founded The Firefly Foundation which gives terminally ill children a week of free vacation with their families.
Dr. Jason Seaver
The patriarch of the Seaver family was Dr. Jason Seaver, who was a psychiatrist who worked out of his own home and therefore, took care of the kids while his wife was at work.
Dr. Seaver was played by actor and famed Canadian Alan Thicke, who before being cast on Growing Pains, was a Canadian game show host for the celebrity game show Animal Crack-Ups. He was also the host of his own talk show, The Alan Thicke Show. Thicke was not the original choice for the role of Dr. Seaver, as the producers originally wanted Bruce Willis. Since Willis didn’t work out, Thicke won the role since no one else fit the bill.
Maggie Seaver was the matriarch of the Seaver family. At the start of the show, she was going back to her career as a journalist, leaving her husband to take care of the house duties while she was away.
Maggie Seaver was played by actress Joanna Kerns. Kerns began to pursue acting after she dropped out of college and moved to New York City. She credits Burgess Meredith and Peggy Feury as important figures that helped her with her acting career, and in the ’70s and ’80s she moved back to California and starred in minor television roles before landing the role of Maggie Seaver in 1984.
Mike Seaver was the eldest of the Seaver children. He was known for being a ladies man and sometimes, quite dim-witted. The role was played by actor Kirk Cameron. Cameron began acting at the age of nine when he was in a commercial for a breakfast cereal. Since then he would appear on different shows and films before finally being cast on Growing Pains in 1985.
Cameron reportedly landed the role because he seemed kind of ditzy. After his audition, one of the producers told the other, “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he sounds like Mike.” Either way, he landed the role and was launched into popularity, becoming a teen heartthrob of the 1980s.
Carol Seaver was the second eldest Seaver child and for a time, the only daughter. She was known to be quite book smart and was an honors student at her school. The ambitious teen was played by actress Tracey Gold. Gold had been acting since the age of four in numerous television shows and films.
Although she auditioned for the role of Carol Seaver in 1985, she was not the first choice. Producers originally cast actress Elizabeth Ward, but since test audiences did not like Ward in that role, producers called Gold back to audition again and she immediately took over.
The set of Growing Pains was not the first place that Kirk Cameron and Tracy Gold had met. In fact, they appeared as brother and sister in other projects prior to landing roles on Growing Pains. They played siblings in a McDonald’s commercial and would subsequently meet again for the films Beyond Witch Mountain and The Best of Times.
In Still Growing: An Autobiography, Kirk Cameron recalls that “She was cute, she was good and she was always working on something. I had a bit of a crush on her at the time—which probably sounds a bit creepy to the rest of the world who think of us as siblings.”
The youngest Seaver (for the first few seasons) was Benjamin “Ben” Hubert Horatio Humphrey Seaver, whose name comes from the famous senator from Minnesota who was also the vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson.
Ben Seaver was played by young actor Jeremy Miller who had starred in commercials and had a guest role on Punky Brewster before he was cast in Growing Pains. Working with a “family” from such a young age would definitely cause someone to grow attached pretty quickly. Miller was apparently so fond of his television family that “when the season was over, he’d cry,” according to Joanna Kerns in a 2000 issue of People Magazine.
The youngest child, Chrissy Seaver, was born in October 1988, entering Growing Pains in its fourth season. Since there are a different set of laws for child actors working a certain amount of hours on set, the role of Chrissy was originally played by a set of uncredited twin girls.
In season five, she was played by toddler twin girls Kelsey and Kirsten Dohring. After this season, writers did something strange and advanced Chrissy’s age by six years for the subsequent seasons so that she could have a more important role on the show. For the remaining two seasons, she was played by actress Ashley Johnson.
In an attempt to save the show by the seventh season, writers introduced young teen Luke Bower as a series regular. Luke first appears on the show as one of Mike’s students in the remedial classes that he teaches. When Mike finds out that Luke is homeless, he convinces his parents to let Luke stay at the Seaver’s home, resulting in Luke becoming a regular fixture on the show.
Luke Bower was played by a then-unknown and baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. Having grown up in Los Angeles DiCaprio was no stranger to show business, having minor roles in other short-lived television shows, but he really gained the attention of Hollywood while he was on Growing Pains. Since then, his career has obviously skyrocketed.
When Leonardo DiCaprio was brought onto the show, Jeremy Miller, who played the youngest son, did feel a little bit threatened. On Oprah’s Where Are They Now? series, Miller admits “There was a little bit of competition there. I have to admit, it bothered me a little bit that the network felt necessary to bring him in rather than focusing on my character who had now grown up and could kind of take over for Mike as the rapscallion, whatever you wanted. So yeah, that was a little weird.”
Miller doesn’t seem too upset about it, however, adding “But we got along great. We hung out. I mean, we were close in age. He’s only about a year older than me, so we would mess around on the set, hang out together. We ran lines together. So, we were good friends on the set.”
Miller’s Unknown Problem
One of the youngest Seaver children had actually grown up with a little-known personal secret that was not revealed until years after the show had already ended. Growing up, he struggled with alcoholism, having had his first drink around the age of four.
He admitted to finishing off beer bottles at his grandparent’s parties and recalls that the first time he really got hammered was at the age of 12. He realized he had a problem when he woke up and felt that he had to drink and at one point was convincing himself that the alcohol was helping him. After suffering from the alcohol abuse for many years, Miller had an implant that released Naltrexone into his system and has become a spokesperson for a rehab company that helped him with his treatment.
Death of Matthew Perry
Before he was Chandler Bing on Friends, Matthew Perry had a short stint on Growing Pains as Carol’s boyfriend, Sandy, during the fourth season. However, by the end of the fourth season, writers killed off Perry’s character, but for a very good reason.
In “Second Chance,” Sandy gets into a car accident after an episode of drunk driving and does not survive. The producers of the show admitted that they had planned to kill Perry’s character after introducing him. When one of the producers caught their own teenage daughters drinking, they wanted to create an episode that would hit hard and resonate with young viewers over the effects that drinking and driving can have.
Tracy Gold’s Battle
Over the course of Growing Pains, actress Tracy Gold not-so-secretly suffered from anorexia. As a busy child actress, she was exposed to the concept of dieting at the young age of seven. She began to restrict what she ate and was diagnosed with early stages of anorexia at the age of 11. By the time she was on Growing Pains she maintained a normal weight, but after gaining a little during one of the show’s hiatuses, she quickly became a target for fat jokes that were written into the script.
In 1988 and leading into the early ’90s, she went from 133 pounds to 110 pounds and her problem only got worse, at one point becoming a mere 80 pounds and being admitted to the hospital. At that point, she was suspended from the show and her character was written off as studying abroad. She returned for the final two episodes, but was not yet recovered and it was quite obvious in many of her scenes.
A Copycat Show?
Many people criticized Growing Pains for being a rip-off of other popular shows that aired during the ’80s. At first, they thought that the plot of Growing Pains was strikingly similar to that of The Cosby Show since it involved a doctor who worked from home and a matriarch who worked outside of the home. But the creator of the show, Neal Marlens, brushed this off as a mere coincidence since he based the show off of his own parent’s dynamics and occupations.
Other people say that Growing Pains is similar to Family Ties. The shows both lasted for seven seasons and consisted of the same amount of family members, even adding a new family member in the middle of the series.
Growing Pains ended in 1992, but fans of the show rejoiced when the original cast was brought back together for two reunion movies. In 2000, The Growing Pains Movie, was released on television and caught up with the lives of the Seaver family since we last left them. Mike is married with four kids and is vice president of an ad agency, Carol becomes a Wall Street lawyer, Ben cleans pools, and Chrissy is still in high school.
In 2004, the cast reunited again for Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers. In this made-for-tv movie, the Seaver children reunite at their old house after they have nowhere else to go, only to find out that Ben is trying to sell the house. The movie follows the Seavers as they do everything in their power to prevent Ben from selling the house.
RIP Alan Thicke
After a long and fulfilling career, actor Alan Thicke unfortunately passed away on December 13, 2016 after suffering a heart attack while playing hockey with his son Carter. He was only 69 years old when he passed in Burbank, California.
Since the end of Growing Pains, Thicke has made appearances in many other shows such as How I Met Your Mother and The L.A. Complex, and more recently This is Us and Netflix’s revival series Fuller House. His Growing Pains co-stars took to social media to express their sadness at his passing, with Kirk Cameron writing on Instagram, “Alan was a generous, kind and loving man. I am so blessed to have grown up with him. Chelsea [Noble] and I send our love and prayers to his family tonight. We will cherish the memories…’sharing the laughter and love.'”