Some actors never want to be reminded of the roles they took when they were youngsters. Not Fred Berry. After starring as Rerun—the guy whose bouncy dance, jovial “Hey hey hey” greeting and red beret stole the show on What’s Happening!!, the 1976-79 ABC comedy—he legally changed his name to Fred Rerun Berry. “He was never sick of the Rerun character,” says his agent Tracy Mapes. “He actually walked around wearing the red beret.” And when Berry eagerly agreed to do a cameo in David Spade’s movie Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, “there were all these child stars who required so much,” says the director of the film, Sam Weisman. “Not Fred. He was just happy to be there.” Adds Spade: “He was exactly like he was on TV-a very happy, lovable guy that made everyone laugh.”
For Berry, who died at 52, apparently of natural causes, at his home in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, life after What’s Happening!! wasn’t always happy. He battled drug and alcohol addiction and suffered from a stroke and diabetes. But lately Berry’s life had been getting better. “He had lost 108 lbs.,” says his fiancée, former actress Ruby Dianne Blackwell, 51. “He was eating better and exercising.” While continuing to pick up acting work on shows such as Scrubs, Berry, who had grown up in a St. Louis housing project, became a Baptist minister and a popular guest preacher in a number of cities. “He always brought everything around him alive. He was so animated,” says Portia Allen, 24, one of Berry’s three children. “He tried to be the best father he could to me and my brothers.”
After splitting with four wives, he also looked forward to being a good husband. Berry and Blackwell had met in 1978 and dated briefly; he got her a guest role on What’s Happening!!—as Rerun’s bride. But the pair had lost contact with each other for nearly 15 years before they met again in 2001. A romance blossomed, and the two were planning a wedding together.
Instead Blackwell had to prepare for a funeral. “He had several red berets,” she says. “I am going to keep one, and I would like to have one in his casket. I think Freddie would like that.”