Actor Fred ‘Rerun’ Berry Dies at Age 52
Fred Berry, the bulb-shaped, squeaky-voiced actor famous for playing red-beret-wearing Rerun on the 1970s TV sitcom “What’s Happening!” has died at age 52, police said Wednesday.
Berry died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles of apparent natural causes, police Officer Jason Lee said. The county coroner was investigating the exact nature of the death, but friends said Berry had been in ill health due to a recent stroke.
He wore his red beret and suspenders in real life, and it was unclear whether he originally brought his own style to the character of Rerun or whether he was forever mimicking the character that made him famous.
Rerun was a 1970s version of latter-day goofball TV characters like Steve Urkel from “Family Matters”: loud, a little whiny, a little dim and definitely geeky. “What’s Happening!”, which ran from 1976-1979, focused on three teenage friends – Rerun, Raj and Dwayne – who learn about life, women and trouble while growing up in Los Angeles.
Among the more famous episodes was one in which Rerun joined a bizarre cult and another in which he got busted for making bootlegged tapes of a Doobie Brothers concert.
The name Rerun, according to Berry, referred to the character’s brainlessness: In the summer, he had to rerun all the classes he failed during the school year.
Berry’s success on the show was clouded by his heavy use of marijuana and cocaine. “There were dealers right there in the studio, people that worked there,” he said in 1996. “In the ’70s, it was like that on a lot of TV shows. It was the Hollywood lifestyle then. Everybody was doing it.”
By the time “What’s Happening!” ended, Berry said he had blown more than a million dollars on drugs, cars, homes and an airplane. With no acting jobs heading his way, Berry tried to live off his fame by charging to appear at shopping malls.
Even later in life, he was still cashing in: lately, he earned money by calling fans on the telephone with the service www.HollywoodIsCalling.com. About $30 would earn a fan a 30 second call.
Berry’s love life was another complication. He married a dancer while in his 20s, and the two divorced, remarried and divorced again. Berry repeated that performance with his second wife, whom he married and divorced twice (most recently in 1991). He also married and divorced two other women.
Rerun brought Berry another brief moment of success in 1985, when “What’s Happening!” was revived as the syndicated “What’s Happening Now!” Berry quit in a contract dispute after the first season and the show ended in 1987.
By 1986, Berry says, he abandoned drugs and started to speak at churches, schools and other groups, finally working as a minister in Madison, Ala., at the New Shiloh Church Ministry.
He was still dabbling in show business. Berry recently appeared on the TV shows “Star Dates” on the E! Entertainment Network, MTV’s “Doggy Fizzle Televizzle” with Snoop Dogg and in a cameo role in the David Spade comedy film “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.”
Funeral services were unclear late Wednesday.