Without a doubt Gary Coleman was THE child TV star of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A refreshingly confident little tyke with sparkling dark, saucer-like eyes and an ingratiating, take-on-anyone burst of personality, the boy charmed the pants right off of TV viewers the minute he was glimpsed in national commercials. Amazed by how mature he came across, Gary was in truth older than he looked, which was brought upon by a congenital kidney condition. Sadly, the pint-sized phenomena outgrew his chubby-cheeked welcome and found the course of his grown-up Hollywood career brutally rough and patchy. The fragile condition of his health coupled with this lack of adult career acceptance, sparked an aggressively defensive behavior mechanism in his adult years and led to great personal unhappiness, chronic legal/financial hassles and early death.
He was born Gary Wayne Coleman on February 8, 1968, to a homeless black woman, and was adopted by a fork-lift operator and his nurse practitioner wife from a Chicago hospital when he was just a few days old. Raised in Zion, Illinois, it was discovered that little Gary had severe health issues before the age of 2. Born with one atrophied kidney and an endangering weak second one, he had two kidney transplants by the time he reached age 16 and the effects of his dialysis medication permanently stunted his growth (to 4'8").
A highly precocious comedy cut-up on-camera, Gary proved a natural in local Chicago commercials. As his commercials spread nationwide, audiences began wondering just who this diminutive dynamo was. Norman Lear's talent scout spotted him in a Chicago bank commercial (he was 9 at the time) and decided to reveal to the world who the little guy was. Brought in to brighten up such Lear sitcoms as "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times" (the latter as a friend of little Janet Jackson's character), NBC quickly recognized the boy's comedy prowess and handed the 10-year-old his own prime-time sitcom playground to mug in.
While "Diff'rent Strokes" (1978)'s underlying approach was to preach racial and social tolerance (it revolved around two lower-class African-American brothers from Harlem who are taken in and adopted by a wealthy, debonair Park Avenue white man after their housekeeper mother dies), the show's powers-that-be smartly deduced that it was the wisecracking gifts of young Coleman, who played the youngest brother, Arnold Jackson, that gave the show its spark. Deemed "NBC's Littlest Big Man," Gary's sly, pouty-lipped delivery of, "What'chu talkin' about, Willis?" soon became a popular American catchphrase. In truth, the comedy program was weak and should probably have faded after a mere season or two, but the public's fascination with young Coleman extended its tepid life to an amazing eight seasons.
Legendary comics such as Bob Hope and Lucille Ball absolutely gushed about the little boy's comedy genius and Gary soon became a hit on the talk show circuit, trading clever banter with the likes of Johnny Carson among others. The boy was also outfitted with a series of lightweight TV-movie showcases which included The Kid from Left Field (1979) (TV), Scout's Honor (1980) (TV), The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982) (TV), The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983) (TV), The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins (1984) (TV) and Playing with Fire (1985) (TV). All of them wisely centered around Gary's adorable persona. Modest film comedies also came his way with On the Right Track (1981) and Jimmy the Kid (1982). Topping it all off, the Hanna-Barbera-produced series "The Gary Coleman Show" (1982) produced an animated version of the child star. Little Gary would make close to $18 million during his nearly decade-long TV reign.
Like many others in his shoes, however, the aging Coleman felt trapped and pigeonholed by his stifling juvenile image and begged to get out from under it. The 18-year-old was truly thankful when the series ended in 1986. Coleman found, however, that a very fickle public was not as receptive to seeing him grow up. Like fellow TV star Emmanuel Lewis, Coleman began aging in appearance but remained trapped in the body of a young boy and the contrast proved too strange for audiences. As a result, Hollywood had little resources as to what to do with Gary Coleman the man. It wasn't long before Coleman was reduced to making weird guest appearances and small parts in even smaller films.
This crash course in reality triggered an increasingly erratic and aggressive behavior in Gary Coleman as he became increasingly angry and bitter about his lack of work when he was so used to be on top of everything. The subsequent tragedies suffered by all three young stars from the "Diff'rent Strokes" show, in fact, was sold out as a jinx package known as the "Diff'rent Strokes curse". While distaff co-star Dana Plato fell heavily into drug addiction, petty crime and pornography before taking her own life in 1999, Todd Bridges, who played Coleman's older brother, battled major cocaine abuse and was later charged (but acquitted of) attempted murder in the late 1980s.
In addition to his life-long health issues, Gary's adult problems came in the form of scattered financial and legal entanglements, as well as scrapes with the law. He was once arrested in 1999 for punching a persistent female autograph fan, in which he was fined and ordered to take anger-management classes. He also had many disorderly conduct and reckless driving charges brought up against him at various times. He would admit that the tally of his life problems led to more than a few feigned suicide attempts. In 1989, Coleman successfully sued his adopted parents and business manager after they allegedly pilfered his youthful fortune for their own self interest totaling $3.8 million in losses, and he won $1,280,000. Despite the large settlement, all of the money was soon spent on taxes, legal fees, as well as his increasingly high medical bills for his continuing dialysis treatments. As a result by 1999 (with no steady acting work) Coleman had to declare bankruptcy, finding work outside the Hollywood industry as a security guard. For self-preservation, he went the reality-show route and became the object of self-mocking cameos to help bring in some cash. As a gag, he ran for California's 2003 governorship during its recall election.
In 2007, he married the much younger actress Shannon Price, whom he met on the set of the low budget film Church Ball (2006), but the quickly marriage dissolved quickly into domestic squabbles that put him in front of the court system yet again on domestic abuse charges. He later moved and settled in Utah.
In early 2009, Coleman managed to star in his very last film, the crude independent comedy Midgets Vs. Mascots (2009) filmed in Dallas, Texas before the end came. After undergoing heart surgery complicated by pneumonia in the fall of 2009, he later suffered a heart seizure the following February 2010 while performing on a Hollywood set, the 42-year-old actor died of a brain hemorrhage on May 28, 2010, after suffering an epidural hematoma from a fall at home. A sad end to a very bright and talented, but very troubled and bitter, child star who, at his peak, brought such joy to TV audiences.
|Shannon Price||(28 August 2007 - 12 August 2008) (divorced)|
Briefly owned a video game arcade in Fisherman's Village near Santa Monica, California.
May 2000: Announced that he is going to run for the US Senate seat from California against incumbent Dianne Feinstein on the HECK (Homelessness, Education, Crime, and Killers) platform.
Had his first kidney transplant in 1973. His second in 1984.
Discovered by a talent scout for Norman Lear, who signed him for a part in a TV revival of "The Little Rascals," which never got produced.
He sued his adoptive parents, Willie and Sue Coleman, over misappropriation and the pilfering of his trust fund in 1989. At the peak of his career in the early 1980s, in addition to movie and TV appearances, he made $70,000 per episode of "Diff'rent Strokes", a total of around $18 million in earnings! Coleman's parents set up a trust fund for his money, yet they carefully structured the arrangement to name themselves as paid employees of Coleman's production company so they could live off Coleman's salary. When the court finally dissolved the trust fund in 1986 upon Coleman turning 18, his parents' share was worth $770,000, while Coleman himself had only $220,000. Coleman then successfully sued both his parents and managers for $3.8 million in losses and won a $1,280,000 settlement. Afterwords, Coleman (feeling used and betrayed) never saw or spoke to his foster parents or former accountants and managers ever again.
Appeared on Court TV on November 2, 2000 in front of Mills Lane where Coleman was charged with assault and battery in 1999, while he was working as a security guard. Tracy Fields, a bus driver and fan of Coleman's work on Diff'rent Strokes, approached him and requested his autograph while he was shopping for a bulletproof vest in a Hawthorne California mall. Coleman refused to give her an autograph, and an argument ensued where Fields reportedly mocked Coleman's lackluster career as an actor after being turned off by his rude and defensive behavior. Coleman responded by punching Fields in her face several times in front of several witnesses. Coleman was arrested and later testified that he felt threatened by Fields tone and posture, and claimed that he was defending himself saying; "She wouldn't leave me alone. I was getting scared, and she was getting ugly." Coleman pleaded no contest to assault and battery, received a suspended jail sentence, and was ordered to take anger management classes as well as pay Fields' $1,665 hospital bill for her broken nose and bruised face.
Appeared on "The Geraldo Rivera Show" (1987) in early 1993 and announced he had tried to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills twice.
As of August 2003, is a candidate for governor of California in the recall election scheduled for October 2003. Has proposed a universal health insurance system based on a $30 flat monthly fee. The required $3,500 filing fee was paid by an alternative newspaper in the San Francisco Bay area.
Ranked #1 in VH1's list of the "100 Greatest Kid Stars"
2005: Ranked #10 in E's cutest child stars all grown-up.
Has been portrayed by Dave Chappelle.
2007: Being portrayed as a character in the new Broadway musical "Avenue Q". The role is being played by on Broadway actress/singer Haneefah Wood and in London's West End by actor/singer Giles Terera.
Hospitalized in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a seizure on the set of "The Insider" (2004) on February 26, 2010.
Filed for bankruptcy in 1999. In order to earn money, he worked as a security guard.
The brain hemorrhage that eventually led to his death, was a result of a fall at his home in Utah (on May 26th) that put him into a coma. His ex-wife Shannon Price, who was with him at his home at the time of the fall, made the 911 call. It was also Price who eventually made the decision to take Coleman off life support.
A cartoon version of Coleman appears in an episode of "Family Guy" (1999), where he is pretending to be "Stewie".
Son of W.G. Coleman.
He played the same character (Arnold Jackson) on five different series: "Diff'rent Strokes" (1978), "Hello, Larry" (1979), "The Facts of Life" (1979), "Amazing Stories" (1985) and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (1990).
[When asked by Howard Stern if he has had oral sex] "No! that's not a place for a young woman's face to be."
[on the death of "Diff'rent Strokes" (1978) co-star Dana Plato] "It's very unfortunate that Dana is no longer with us... she was a wonderful woman, but her death was a welcome, though sad, piece of closure to "Diff'rent Strokes". The possibility of a reunion show no longer exists now... and thank God!"
By 1981, I got tired of the doing the show [Diff'rent Strokes]. I didn't wanna do it anymore. But there was nothing I could do about that, because the contract was already signed. So, I was a little bitter about that because I didn't wanna be there. The character [Arnold Jackson] wasn't growing up, and he wasn't interesting to me anymore.
My parents were as much under the thumb of everyone else [and the network, and all the people that are part of the Hollywood machine] as I was. I have worked on episodes of "Diff'rent Strokes" (1978) 15 hours straight. And everyone was looking the other way and no one said anything.
When "Diff'rent Strokes" (1978) got canceled, I was enormously thrilled and was very much looking forward to starting the rest of my life.
I want to escape that legacy of Arnold Jackson. I'm someone more. It would be nice if the world thought of me as something more.
I don't hurt or want for visibility, but people seem to forget pretty easily.
I parody myself every chance I get. I try to make fun of myself and let people know that I'm a human being, and these things that have happened to me are real. I'm not just some cartoon who exists and suddenly doesn't exist
I still have the desire to do the job of acting. It's just a matter of whether I'll be allowed to do the job of acting that remains to be seen. There are only so many brick walls that I'm willing to beat my head on.
In 2001 interview: I would not give my first 15 years to my worst enemy, And I don't even have a worst enemy.
His first commercial in 1974 for a Chicago bank: You should have a Hubert doll.
[When asked why he is volatile with his friends, especially his wife]: No! I don't have a volatile relationship with anybody! If we have our discussion and [most of the time] the men lose, if I lose or if she loses... she goes that way, I go that way.
[on working on Church Ball] Working with the cast was interesting. Many of them were quiet in perspective and kind of inwardly funny not outwardly funny. Some were very serious and dedicated to the craft of movie making. The others were just here to make their characters live and bring a little bit of levity and character development to to the film.
[after filing for bankruptcy in August 1999] I can spread that blame all the way around for this. A lot of people are responsible for my insolvency. From me, to my accountants, to my adoptive parents, to my agents, to my lawyers... and back to me again.
(August 2003) Submitted papers to run in California's gubernatorial recall election. Election takes place October 7th, 2003.
(March 2005) Political analyst for All Comedy Radio, currently working as a commentator covering the Michael Jackson trial.
(July 2005) Currently resides in a small town in Utah.
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