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."