Gary Coleman, who achieved international fame as the child star of the popular 1970s-80s television comedy Diff’rent Strokes, and later in life endured a series of medical and legal troubles, died May 28, 2010, at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah, after suffering an intercranial hemorrhage. He was 42.
According to news reports, Coleman had been hospitalized on May 27 after injuring his head in a fall at his nearby home. Although he sustained consciousness at first, he later lapsed into a coma and was placed on life support. He died with family and friends by his side after life support was terminated.
Born February 8, 1968, in Zion, Illinois, Coleman launched his primetime television career at age 9 after catching the eye of producer Norman Lear. Prior to Diff’rent Strokes, he had guest roles on two Lear productions, The Jeffersons and Good Times.
Diff’rent Strokes aired from 1978-1986 — six seasons on NBC and two on ABC. Coleman starred as Arnold Jackson, the younger brother in a pair of African-American siblings adopted by a wealthy white man. The older brother, Willis, was played by Todd Bridges; the adoptive father, Philip Drummond, was played by Conrad Bain.
On the series, Coleman popularized a catch phrase: “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Willis?”
At its height, Diff’rent Strokes was an enormous success. Coleman was a frequent talk-show guest and appeared on television with the likes of Lucille Ball and Nancy Reagan; for four straight years, from 1980-1983, he was named Favorite Young TV Performer at the People’s Choice Awards. When the show ended, the actor’s popularity dimmed considerably, and he was never able to garner the same attention for his work.
He remained in the public eye due in part ongoing health challenges related to the kidney disease that stunted his growth, and this year he suffered two seizures.
His legal problems were often related to his finances. In 1990, he sued his parents and an ex-manager for allegedly bilking him of his Diff’rent Strokes fortune. In 1993, he was awarded $1.3 million, only a portion of what he was said to have earned at his peak; he filed for bankruptcy six years later. In 1998, he was arrested for striking a fan who allegedly had insulted him.
More recently, he and his wife, Shannon Price, whom he met on the set of the 2006 movie Church Ball, made news for marital strife.
In addition to cameo roles in various TV and film productions, Coleman hosted a radio show, opened a video arcade, worked as a security guard and auctioned personal belongings on eBay.
He is survived by his wife.