Cast of ‘What’s Happening!!’ in 2024: Which Child Star Gave It All Up to Become a Veterinarian?

What's Happening!! Haywood Nelson, Fred Berry, Ernest Thomas, 1976-79
Everett Collection

What’s Happening!! was a sitcom loosely based on the film Cooley High, following a group of teens working and living in Watts, an L.A. neighborhood. It was Bud Yorkin’s second series after he split away from Norman Lear and Tandem Productions and the show did quite well, airing between 1976 and 1979. It spawned a sequel in the ’80s called What’s Happening Now!!, which focused more on the main character, Raj. Have you ever wondered what happened to the cast? Let’s find out What’s Happening!! with all of them now.

Ernest Lee Thomas (Roger “Raj” Thomas)


Ernest Lee Thomas

Everett Collection; Leon Bennett/Getty Images

After Thomas starred in What’s Happening!! and What’s Happening Now!!, he went on to appear in several other shows including In The Heat of the Night, The Steve Harvey Show, Everybody Hates Chris, Veep, Workaholics, and films such as Malcolm X and Funny People.  Thomas recently appeared in the 2024 series Diarra from Detroit as a professor. Thomas suffers from an eye condition called Amblyopia or lazy eye.

Haywood Nelson (Dwayne Clemens Nelson)


Haywood Nelson

Columbia Pictures Television/Everett Collection; Corine Solberg/Getty Images

Nelson was the youngest of the trio and became one of the first Black teen idols after starring in the show. Prior to What’s Happening!!, he started his career at the age of six and appeared in many commercials. He starred in films If You Give a Dance, You Gotta Pay the Band, Mixed Company, and more before appearing in What’s Happening!! at age 16. Afterward, he got a role in The White Shadow and went back to school to study Architectural Design and Electronics Engineering. Nelson hasn’t acted since he made an appearance as himself in the 2003 film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star alongside Thomas. He currently is a producer and a Digital Media Executive.

Danielle Spencer (Dee Thomas)


Danielle Spencer

ABC/Everett Collection; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Spencer began her career as a child star on the show. In 1977, Spencer was in a severe car accident that killed her stepfather, Tim Pelt, and left Spencer in a coma for three weeks. She had to spend six months in physical therapy. She recovered but had some lifelong injuries including spinal stenosis. When the show ended in 1979, she and her mother moved to Africa for a while. Upon returning to the United States, she went to the University of California-Davis and earned a degree in veterinary medicine. She eventually became a veterinarian in 1996. She remains a veterinarian to this day and only acts occasionally in small roles. She wrote a book about being a child star called Through the Fire: Journal of a Child Star and has been inducted as part of the permanent exhibition of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Fred Berry (Frederick “Rerun” or “Freddy” Stubbs)

d. 2003

Fred Berry

Everett Collection and Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

If you were a fan of the show, Rerun was most likely your favorite because he was the funniest. Berry appeared in the sequel but was fired after requesting more money than his co-stars after one season. Unfortunately, he struggled with drug and alcohol abuse issues, which he blamed on his big success and fame. He didn’t work much after What’s Happening!! and What’s Happening Now!! but became so synonymous with his character that he changed his real middle name to Rerun. Berry also became a motivational speaker and Baptist minister. He was married six times to four different women plus had three children. He died of natural causes at the age of 52 while he was recovering at home from a stroke.

Mabel King (Mabel “Mama” Thomas)

d. 1999

Mabel King

Everett Collection; Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

King is best known for her role as Mama in What’s Happening!! as well as the role of Evillene the Witch in the stage musical and film The Wiz. King did not start acting until her mid-30s and began her career on Broadway. She went on to guest star on shows such as Fantasy Island and The Jeffersons before she passed away in 1999 at the age of 66. Prior to her death, she lost several limbs due to her diabetes.

Shirley Hemphill (Shirley Wilson)

d. 1999

Shirley Hemphill

Everett Collection and Marcia Reed /American Broadcasting Companies via Getty Images

Hemphill was an actor and stand-up comedian who got the role of waitress Shirley Wilson after being found in the comedy club circuit in Los Angeles. After the show ended, she was cast in her own sitcom One in a Million which lasted only one season. After both shows ended, she appeared on shows such as The Love Boat and Trapper John M.D. and continued doing stand-up comedy in nightclubs around the country. She was a regular at the iconic Laugh Factory in L.A. She passed away in 1999 at the age of 52 from kidney failure.

Tell us, who is your favorite character from the show?


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September 2023

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