What would we do, baby, without us? / What would we do, baby, without us? Sha la la lahhh…
We can’t help but break into the theme song every time we think of Family Ties. Our beloved TV family, the Keatons, came into our world this month back in 1982, and we grew up along siblings Alex, Mallory, Jennifer, and later Andy for a total of seven seasons. With love, laughter, and tears, the Keatons entertained us with their opposing generational viewpoints: Parents Steven and Elise were baby-booming liberals and ex Hippies, while older kids Alex and Mallory embraced the conservative Republican views of the Reagan era.
Of course, much of Family Ties’ comedy relied on the shenanigans of Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, who just so happens to be starring in a brand new sitcom tonight inspired by his life with Parkinson’s.
As excited as we are to see Fox’s new debut, it made us wonder about where the entire Family Ties clan has been since leaving our living room as the Keatons.
Meredith Baxter: As Elyse Keaton, television actress Meredith Baxter was one the coolest moms on television—next to Clair Huxtable, of course. She was funny, understanding, always the voice of reason, and living in a house with a hippie husband and a conservative son, she sort of had to be. Since 1971 Baxter has been acting on the small screen. Her television break came a year later on the CBS sitcom called Bridget Loves Bernie. It was in that series that she met her second husband, actor David Birney. Since then her work has run the gamut from sitcoms to made-for-TV-movies, but it was her work on Family Ties that Baxter received the most acclaim. In 1999 Baxter was diagnosed with breast cancer, and 10 years after that she announced to Matt Lauer on the Today show that she was a lesbian. Most recently Baxter appeared on Glee as Liz, a lesbian who mentors Blaine and Kurt, alongside her partner Jan played by Patty Duke.
Michael Gross: For seven years Michael Gross played Steven Keaton, a nerdy architect who just couldn’t get his groovy head out of the ‘60s, but that’s what made him so lovable and charming. One of his other recognizable roles was Burt Gummer, a trigger-happy hunter out to defend himself and a small town from strange underground creatures in Tremors. The cult-classic film subsequently spawned movie sequels and a TV series. Gross has also appeared on episodes of ER, Law and Order, CSI, and Parks and Recreation and has done numerous voice-over projects. He is also an avid trains and railroad enthusiast. How Steven Keaton of him!
Michael J. Fox: Who didn’t have Michael J. Fox’s cute preppy mug plastered all over their bedroom walls? His magnetic and boyish presence was palpable in the ‘80s and easily transferred onto the big screen, though we were left heartbroken when he married his Family Ties girlfriend, actress Tracy Pollan. Fox received mega blockbuster status with the Back to the Future trilogy, Teen Wolf, and Secret of My Success. In the late ‘90s, he starred in another popular sitcom, the politically driven Spin City for four seasons. It was during the end of season four in 2000 that Fox announced he had Parkinson's disease and left the show due to his worsening symptoms. However, he continued working and had cameos on shows like Boston Legal, Rescue Me, and The Good Wife. Always the consummate actor, Fox has managed to return to prime time: Tonight he’ll headline his new comedy, The Michael J. Fox Show, which is about a TV anchor dealing with Parkinson’s.
Justine Bateman: Becoming a TV icon through your first acting gig is a pretty sweet deal. And that's what happened when Justine Bateman snagged the role as air-headed Mallory Keaton. During and post-Family Ties, Bateman appeared in several TV films but in 1988 jumped onto the big screen as Jennie Lee, the lead singer of an all-girl band alongside Julia Roberts in Satisfaction. (Apparently, she had some singing chops since her vocals were used on the soundtrack.) In 2006 she made a cameo on Arrested Development and played opposite her real-life younger brother Jason Bateman and has also appeared in Desperate Housewives, Californication, and Psych, among other shows. Finding alternative ways to express herself, Bateman has launched a fashion line and has immersed herself in a variety of digital media projects. She’s currently enrolled at UCLA and is said to be majoring in computer science.
Tina Yothers: With sunshine blonde hair and a Cabbage Patch doll face, Tina Yothers will forever be known as the sassiest Keaton member who was never afraid to speak her mind. Yothers’ sharp tongue as younger sis Jen in Family Ties was impressive considering her pint-size presence, but her innate acting abilities come from a long line of acting. Her father is a television producer and all of her siblings are actors as well. Although her role in Family Ties was her most prominent, she did appear in two memorable, and sort of (unintentionally) hilarious made-for-TV-films in the early ‘90s, including Laker Girls and the Tonya Harding Story. Yothers has also appeared on some reality shows including Celebrity Fitness Club and Celebrity Wife Swap. Yothers currently lives in Ontario, California with her husband and their three kids.
Brian Bonsall: Brian Bonsall won three Young Artist Awards for his role as the sprightly Andrew Keaton, the youngest clan member in Family Ties who had to deal with older bro Alex’s attempt at shaping him into a nice little Reagan Republican. After the show ended, Bonsall moved on to other favorable projects including Blank Check and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but after a few more acting gigs, he retired from the industry in 1995. His focus shifted to high school in Colorado, where he eventually became immersed into the punk music scene. Now 31, Bonsall has been spending the past decade or so dealing with numerous run-ins with the law and substance abuse problems.
*Photo of Brian Bonsall courtesy of nndb.com.