'Diff'rent Strokes' actor suffered fall in Utah
Gary Coleman, the moppet who was an overnight sensation in the NBC laffer “Diff’rent Strokes” but become tabloid fodder in his later years, died Friday at a hospital in Provo, Utah, from cranial bleeding following a fall. He was 42.
Coleman suffered from congenital kidney disease and had two kidney transplants. He had previously been hospitalized after experiencing seizures.
Coleman was adopted as a child and raised by a nurse and forklift operator in the Midwest. He appeared in TV on “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” before being cast in “Diff’rent Strokes” in 1978, when he was 10.
Coleman was the centerpiece of the NBC sitcom, in which he played Arnold, one of two black children adopted by a rich white father. Because of his kidney problems, he was small for his age. That pint size, intelligent delivery and innate comic timing charmed the audiences. His character was always smartly skeptical of his onscreen siblings and, with a furrowed brow, he frequently asked his older brother “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” The phrase immediately caught on and became his trademark, which later annoyed him.
At the peak of that show, which ran through 1986, he reportedly earned $100,000 an episode. However nearly three-quarters of what he earned was spent on taxes, his parents, lawyers and managers. In 1989, he sued his parents and former manager alleging misappropriation of a $3.8 million trust fund and won $1.28 million four years later.
The musical “Avenue Q,” which won the Tony, featured a character named Gary Coleman (played by a woman) who’s now manager of a low-rent Manhattan apartment building. The show spoofed Coleman’s adjustments to life post-stardom and his family lawsuit.
Coleman’s co-stars on “Diff’rent Strokes” also famously battled personal demons. Dana Plato died in 1999 after run-ins with the law and drug problems. Todd Bridges saw his career take a dive after struggles with drug addiction in the wake of the series, though in recent years he has been vocal about being sober for the past decade.
After “Strokes” wrapped, Coleman was featured steadily on TV series such as “227,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Waynehead” and “The Drew Carey Show.” He also made several appearances portraying himself on shows such as “MadTV,” “Hollywood Squares” and “The Simpsons.”
“I want to remember him as the fun, playful, adorable and affectionate man he was,” Janet Jackson said of Coleman. “I know he is finally at peace.”