This boy's Life: the cast of Life Goes On

Question: What was the name of the TV show with Becca and Corky?


Answer: That would be the groundbreaking ABC drama Life Goes On, which ran from September 1989 to August 1993. The first network show built around a character with Down syndrome (and one that featured an actor who had the condition to boot), it focused on the Thatcher family and borrowed its title from the classic Beatles song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," a version of which served as the theme song.

In the series' early days, Life Goes On revolved chiefly around the challenges facing 18-year-old son Charles (Christopher Burke), better known as Corky. Corky "mainstreamed" over from special education to high school when the show kicked off and, in doing so, added a new wrinkle to the daily life of younger sister Becca (ER's Kellie Martin), who was now his classmate. Overseeing the home front were dad Drew (Bill Smitrovich) and mom Libby (Broadway actress Patti LuPone), with half-sister Paige (Monique Lanier during the first season, then The Division's Tracey Needham) rounding out the household.

Despite being a bit oversimplified and corny in its storytelling when it began, Life Goes On was a daring move for network television — an industry that considers 90 percent of the country to be fly-over states whose residents bolt at the sight of anything "different." In fact, the ad execs who call such races didn't hold out much hope for its prospects before it debuted: "I know the producers say that Corky won't be the focus of every program, but it will be difficult for some people to watch nonetheless," one told TV Guide. "It is well done, but I don't think Middle America will want to consistently tune in to it," said another (proving my previous statement about the biz's geographical snobbery). On the advocacy side, the head of a Down syndrome support group was just happy that Corky lived a normal life because viewers could see it was possible. "There's nothing like mass media to educate people," she said (obviously, this was before Fear Factor, Temptation Island and Jackass).

As the drama progressed, it tackled even more sensitive topics. Most notably, Becca fell in love with Jesse McKenna (Chad Lowe), who was HIV-positive. The character spent two years on the show, and Becca and Jesse married before his death from AIDS-related complications.

Working on the show was especially liberating for Burke and Andrea Friedman, who played Chris's girlfriend Amanda (eventually those characters married, too) and who also had Down syndrome. "I thought of all the hard work we had done and all the struggles," Friedman's mother Marjorie told The Los Angeles Times of watching her daughter shoot a scene. "I realized that when we started out, this is never where we expected to be."

For his part, Burke not only starred in Life Goes On, he cowrote A Special Kind of Hero, a book about the experience. Certainly, "star" and "writer" weren't in the future his doctor saw when he was born in 1965. "He'll probably never walk or talk," the doctor said. "He won't amount to anything."

It was nice to see that prediction proven so wrong.