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The Seavers are reunited for a follow-up movie, and
after some estrangement, the series' stars seem to
be too.

TV Family's Cast Gets Over Its Own 'Growing Pains'

November 03, 2000|WILLIAM KECK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This Sunday's two-hour "The Growing Pains Movie," which finds the Seaver kids returning home to help their mother campaign for Congress, will not be the first time the fresh-faced cast of the popular 1985-92 sitcom has regrouped since the series finale. There were three unofficial reunions in the mid-'90s at the weddings of stars Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns and Tracey Gold, where paparazzi snapped the three smiling stars. Joined by cast mate Jeremy Miller, their arms wrapped around each other, this foursome presented the image of a still-united Seaver family front.

But someone was conspicuously absent. Where was Kirk Cameron, the series' breakout star who played eldest son Mike? Was the hotshot too big to attend the weddings of his former co-stars? Think again.

"I totally would have come--I wasn't invited," says 30-year-old Cameron, munching on a heavily croutoned Caesar salad at an International House of Pancakes near his Agoura home. "But I was still happy for them. Those were their weddings, and they had the people there that they loved and cared about. It didn't matter to me that I wasn't one of those people."

Though Thicke claims he mailed a wedding invitation to his TV son, Gold makes no apologies for leaving Cameron off her 1994 invite list. "If I'd invited him, he probably wouldn't have come," says Gold, 31. Juggling toddlers Sage, 3 1/2, and Bailey, 1 1/2, during a visit to her parents' North Hollywood home, the star of countless TV movies admits to "diplomacy" in her comments regarding her former TV sib.

"At the end, Kirk had drifted away from the show. When he got married during a summer hiatus up in New York, none of us were invited. He had pretty much made it clear he needed his separation from us."

But it hadn't always been that way. In the early years of the series, no birthday or holiday would pass without all the Seavers--Cameron included--in attendance. "In the early days of 'Growing Pains,' we communed all the time," remembers Thicke, calling from a furniture store, where he was replacing items he lost in his recent divorce. "Nobody would ever have a party without the whole gang being there. And that did change. Kirk went through a slow withdrawal--a fade to black."

Personal Changes in the Last Season

In the final seasons of "Growing Pains," Cameron found both God (though he rejects the label "born again") and a wife in on-screen love interest Chelsea Noble, who appears in the reunion as Mike's now-wife Kate. "I definitely kind of made an about-face, going toward another aspect of my life," admits Cameron. "I shifted my focus from 100% on the show, to 100% on [my new life], and left 0% on the show--and even the friendships that were a part of that show. If I could go back, I think I could make decisions that were less inadvertently hurtful to the cast--like talking and explaining to them why I just wanted to have my family at my wedding."

Following the series' cancellation, Cameron made no attempt to maintain contact with his former co-stars. It had been eight years since he'd even spoken to Gold. Still, Cameron says, "I can't speak for anyone else, but I had no deep-seated animosity toward anybody in the cast. Chelsea and I were ready to start a life outside of a television show, outside of Hollywood--outside of the circus I'd been in for seven years."

As the sitcom neared its final season, the once tightknit cast members began to contemplate their post-"Growing Pains" lives. Gold had an additional burden to deal with--a widely publicized life-and-death battle with anorexia nervosa that forced ABC to remove her from the series' final episodes. "The last season of 'Growing Pains' is like a blur to me--I can't even remember the episodes," admits Gold, who was allowed to return only for the series finale. "They said, 'We've been canceled. You can come back for the last episode,' but I was still very, very sick and an insurance risk."

For Gold, the prospect of stepping back into that role for a reunion was initially unsettling. "My fear was, 'Can I put myself back into an environment where I was so sick the last time I was there?,' " she says. "I was really scared that it might be a not healthy environment. Would I feel the same feelings I'd had?"

Despite insecurities and estrangements, the entire cast (Thicke, Cameron, Gold, Miller and youngest Seaver Ashley Johnson) was persuaded by ABC to return for the reunion, though Kerns, now a director on shows such as "Ally McBeal," held out for a hefty paycheck and initially expressed interest in directing.

Mom Seaver Makes a Bid for Congress

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