See the Cast of ‘Back to School’ Then and Now
Released way back in 1986, ‘Back to School’ was based on a story idea by the late, great comedian Rodney Dangerfield and co-written by Harold Ramis. Dangerfield starred as Thornton Melon, a wealthy but woefully uneducated man who enrolls in college when his despairing son admits that he wants to drop out. Shenanigans and valuable life lessons ensue, of course.
27 years later, we head ‘Back to School’ to take a look at the cast of the film and see where they are now.
Rodney Dangerfield, Thornton Melon
Then: Comedian Rodney Dangerfield followed up his performance in ‘Caddyshack’ with ‘Back to School,’ in which he played Thornton Melon, a wealthy man who goes to college to convince his son that it’s not so bad. Thornton eventually reveals that before he was wealthy, he was a struggling truck driver; in real life, Dangerfield also worked as a truck driver before he was famous.
Now: Dangerfield sadly passed away in 2004 at the age of 82, but continued working in the years leading up to his illness. Following ‘Back to School,’ the comedian and actor went on to star in ‘Ladybugs,’ ‘Rover Dangerfield,’ and reunited with his ‘Back to School’ co-star Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Natural Born Killers,’ and he occasionally performed stand-up in his later years.
Sally Kellerman, Dr. Diane Turner
Then: ‘MASH’ star Sally Kellerman played Dr. Diane Turner, a teacher at the university who is dating Thornton’s nemesis, Dr. Phillip Barbay. Thornton and Diane strike up a romantic relationship.
Now: In addition to acting, Kellerman has had a successful singing career since the 70s, and in 2009 she released a jazz album titled ‘Sally.’ She continues to act, and has guest-starred on ‘90210,’ ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ ‘Workaholics,’ and ‘Maron.’
Burt Young, Lou
Then: Known best for playing Sylvester Stallone’s best friend Paulie in the ‘Rocky’ films, Burt Young starred as Lou, Thornton’s best friend, chauffeur, and bodyguard.
Now: Young reprised the role of Paulie in the 2006 film ‘Rocky Balboa,’ and has also appeared in the films ‘New York, I Love You,’ and ‘Win Win.’ The veteran actor is also a painter, whose work has been featured in galleries all over the world. He’s written two stage plays, two screenplays, and a novel.
Keith Gordon, Jason Melon
Then: Keith Gordon, star of the horror film ‘Christine’ (based on a story by Stephen King), played Jason, Thornton’s son. Jason goes off to college, but when things aren’t going so well for him, he threatens to quit, inciting his father to enroll alongside him at the school.
Now: Gordon has since moved behind the camera, and has directed episodes of ‘Dexter,’ ‘The Killing,’ and ‘House M.D.’
Robert Downey Jr., Derek Lutz
Then: Former ‘SNL’ cast member and son of the legendary actor Robert Downey Sr., Robert Downey Jr. set out to start a film career of his own, appearing in ‘Weird Science,’ ‘Less Than Zero,’ and ‘Back to School.’ In the film he played Derek, Jason’s only friend.
Now: Downey Jr. hit a rough patch there in the late 90s and early 00s, but returned even better than before — he’s garnered acclaim for his performances in the films ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ and ‘Zodiac,’ and stars as Tony Stark/Iron Man in the ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Avengers’ films. He’ll soon reunite with his ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Iron Man 2′ director Jon Favreau for the upcoming film ‘Chef.’
Paxton Whitehead, Dr. Phillip Barbay
Then: British stage actor and director Paxton Whitehead is probably known best for his first big American role, as the jerky Dr. Phillip Barbay in ‘Back to School.’
Now: Whitehead went on to have a recurring role in the 90s sitcom ‘Mad About You,’ and has appeared in the films ‘Kate and Leopold’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’
Terry Farrell, Valerie Desmond
Then: Former model Terry Farrell played Valerie Desmond, a popular girl on whom Jason has a massive crush.
Now: Farrell went on to star in ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ as Jadzia Dax, and had a recurring role on the 90s sitcom ‘Becker.’ She is married to Sprint spokesman Brian Baker.
M. Emmet Walsh, Coach Turnbull
Then: Veteran actor M. Emmet Walsh played the hard-to-impress Coach Osborne. Thornton convinces the coach that Jason is worthy of a spot on the diving team.
Now: Walsh, now 78, continues to act and has appeared in the recent films ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ and ‘The Raven.’ He provides the voice of Olaf Hugglesbjork on the animated series ‘Pound Puppies.’
William Zabka, Chas Osborne
Then: If you had a movie about school in the 80s and needed a bad guy, William Zabka was your dude. Zabka played Chas, an athlete and Jason’s rival, who also has a crush on Valerie. The actor also starred in ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Just One of the Guys.’
Now: Zabka made a cameo appearance in 2010’s ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ and appeared as himself on a recent episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ alongside ‘Karate Kid’ co-star Ralph Macchio. He also directed a music video for the country music group Rascal Flatts.