In September of 1982, one of America’s all-time favorite sitcoms aired for the first time, lasting seven seasons. Family Ties was set in Columbus, Ohio during the Reagan administration and cast a light on the United States political shift from the more liberal 60s and 70s to the conservatism of the 1980s. For those of us who remember the hippie culture of the Woodstock era, Family Ties depicted the divide within families with a cast of characters like young Republican Alex P. Keaton (played to perfection by Michael J. Fox) and his ex-hippie baby-boomer parents, Steven and Elyse Keaton (portrayed by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter). Add in gossipy Mallory (Justine Bateman) and tomboy Jennifer (Tina Yothers) and you had a delightful and hilarious mix.
Family Ties received critical acclaim
The show won multiple awards, including three consecutive Emmy Awards for favorite Michael J. Fox as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Alex was the eldest of the Keaton clan. He embraced the materialism of the 80s and gave into his ambitions and wanna be millionaire dreams. A recurring theme was Alex hatching schemes involving money-making that rarely — if ever — came to fruition. But through it all, Alex became a beloved character, no matter how greedy he seemed.
The original concept of the sitcom was revolving around the Keaton parents, but the audience reacted so enthusiastically to Alex during the first few tapings, that he soon became the focus on the show. Notable guest stars joined the Family Ties cast from time to time: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Christina Applegate (read about her MS health update here), Julia Louis-Dreyfus and River Phoenix to name a few.
Family Ties cast then and now
The main Family Ties cast was the driving force behind the sitcom’s popularity. So where are they now? Read on to catch up with the stars — you won’t believe how much they’ve changed!
Meredith Baxter as Elyse Keaton
Born in Pasadena, California, Meredith is one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, with a career that spans over five decades. Baxter’s mom was actress Whitney Blake, who co-starred in Hazel, but Meredith made a name for herself with her big break on the 1970s sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie (1972), where she met her future husband David Birney.
They were married for 15 tumultuous years and had three children. To a generation of TV watchers, Baxter will always be Elyse Keaton on Family Ties (1982-1989). One of her few feature film roles was in the 1976 political thriller, All The President’s Men. Around the same time, Baxter had her second shot at small screen stardom in Family (1976-1980).
Post-Ties, Baxter produced and starred in telefilms such as The Kissing Place, The Betty Broderick Story and 1986’s Kate’s Secret, A Woman Scorned, which earned her a third Emmy nod. She returned to TV on Cold Case as an alcoholic mother, something Baxter could relate to in her own personal struggle with alcohol. Baxter also briefly joined the cast of daytime’s The Young and the Restless.
The parents of the Keaton clan have paired up on stage several times in Love Letters, and Hallmark’s Naughty or Nice, where they even played a married couple once again. “Michael is the dearest man who walks the earth. He’s just such a sweetheart,” Baxter told Oprah. The 76 year-old actress still is seen acting occasionally. She is also involved in the Meredith Baxter Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, which she founded after her own breast cancer journey.
Michael Gross as Steven Keaton
Affable dad Steven Keaton on Family Ties brought this Chicago-native fame and lifetime recognition. “When I was doing Family Ties, I was not quite that mellow as a real father. In fact, my wife used to call me Captain Von Trapp from The Sound of Music; I tended to be a little more authoritarian. I had been a very disciplined child so I made the mistake of thinking one size fits all,” Michael Gross told Parade.
Post-Ties, Gross’ career trudged on. He co-starred with Kevin Bacon in the now cult classic, Tremors, and made several appearances on ER, How I Met Your Mother and many more. Since Family Ties, the Keaton parents have stayed in touch. Gross played Nick Claus in 2015’s Becoming Santa, alongside his wife, Jessica Claus, played by Meredith Baxter.
The actor is also an amateur railroad historian, with an extensive collection of railroad antiques. His passion for the rails has made him part owner of the Sante Fe Southern Railway and since 2009, he has been the celebrity spokesman for the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, and the spokesman for the “World’s Greatest Hobby” campaign.
Justine Bateman as Mallory Keaton
Born in Rye, New York, the now 57-year-old actress, writer, director and producer will always be known for her role as superficial Mallory Keaton on Family Ties. “When I got Family Ties, I wasn’t even thinking about being an actress. I thought I might become a window dresser,” Justine Bateman confessed to Entertainment Weekly. Bateman continued the role until the sitcom’s last episode in 1989. Her return to TV was in 1996’s Men Behaving Badly and in Showtime’s 2003 Out of Order. Recurring roles saw her in Men in Trees, and Desperate Housewives.
On the big screen, Bateman was the lead in Satisfaction that also featured Julia Roberts. In the film, she starred as the lead vocalist of an all-girl band and also performed the vocals on the soundtrack. Bateman had other big screen roles and has acted in several web series, while also dabbling in theater works such as The Crucible and Speed the Plow. Her creative talents can be seen in the film Violet that she wrote, produced and directed in 2021.
She has a long and happy marriage to Mark Fluent whom she married in 2001 and they have two children. She is also known for her outspoken views on net neutrality, having testified before the US Senate Commerce Committee in support of it in 2008.
In recent years, Bateman has been speaking out on aging naturally in Hollywood. To the Sydney Morning Herald, she brought up the bright sides of aging: “I think about how many tears have come through this face, how much joy, how much exhaustion or exuberance — that’s an incredible collection of experience.”
Tina Yothers as Jennifer Keaton
Tina began her career as a three year-old, but her best known role was as Jennifer Keaton on Family Ties that won her fame at age nine. Throughout the 80s and 90s, she was in numerous television movies including 1981’s The Cherokee Trail, 1982’s Shoot The Moon and Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story, among others.
With the sitcom’s end in 1989, Yothers cut her long blonde hair into a bob, dyed it black and formed the band Jaded with her brother, Cory. She played the lead role in a stage musical on the life of porn star, Linda Lovelace, but has avoided the bright lights of stardom except for a few spots; Celebrity Fit Club and several years later, Celebrity Wife Swap in 2012. In 2013, Yothers appeared on an episode of What Not to Wear.
Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton
Perhaps the best known member of the Family Ties cast is Michael J. Fox. But before his breakout role as Alex P. Keaton on the hit sitcom, the Canadian-native was selling off sections of his couch for money. Things changed very quickly as Alex P. became the man of the 80s and stole America’s heart. Then, in 1985 came Back to the Future, where Fox became legendary as Marty McFly.
Teen Wolf quickly followed and Fox was on the cover of every teen magazine worldwide. It was while filming 1991’s Doc Hollywood that he began showing signs of Parkinson’s disease and received the devastating diagnosis shortly thereafter. Even with his diagnosis and symptoms that he kept under wraps, he went on to star in Spin City and brought home another Emmy in 1996 for his Mike Flaherty character.
Dealing with his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis
It was after his Parkinson’s diagnosis that Fox began drinking heavily to cope with his disease and went into a depression. Upon realizing his out-of-control behavior, he sought help and in 2001, created the Michael J. Fox Foundation in the hopes of finding a cure for the disease. In the midst of all this, Fox appeared in several TV roles including Rescue Me, and starting in 2010, Fox played a recurring role on The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He even got up on stage to reprise his famous Johnny B. Goode performance back in 2011.
“Happiness is a decision. The only unavailable choice was whether or not to have Parkinson’s. Everything else was up to me,” he wrote in his book, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.
For his extensive talent, Fox has won five Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Grammy. He was inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2000 and Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2002. For his work with Parkinson’s, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2022 with his wife of 35 years, actress Tracy Pollan, at his side. In conversation with Men’s Health, he said: “There’s the stuff you plan — the stuff you work toward, the stuff you aspire to, your desires and wishes. And then there’s things that just happen. And the things that just happen are usually of more intricate design and a higher purpose.”
Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years. Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living. She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for Women, Elle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva. Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content. She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.
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