Gary Coleman (1968-2010)

Gary Coleman at 2005 E3, May 2005
Courtesy Daniel McConnell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gary Coleman, best known for his child star status from the hit television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, was born on February 8, 1968, and raised in Zion, Illinois. A talent scout for TV producer Norman Lear spotted Coleman in a Chicago bank commercial, and at the age of 10 he was cast in the role of Arnold Jackson, the younger of two African American brothers adopted by a wealthy white man in New York City. Diff’rent Strokes, which premiered in 1978, ran for seven seasons on NBC and one season on ABC.  The last episode aired in 1986. During the show’s tenure, Coleman became famous for his signature catch-phrase, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?,” and his impeccable comedic timing. Between 1980-1984, Coleman won four consecutive People’s Choice Awards as Favorite Young TV Performer for his portrayal of the character Arnold Jackson.

Adopted by W.G. “Willie” and Edmonia Sue Coleman at four days old, Coleman was born with a congenital kidney disease for which he would later receive two transplants, one at age 5 and one at age 16, as well as recurrent dialysis throughout his life. These treatments permanently affected Coleman’s growth patterns, leaving his height as an adult at 4 feet 8 inches tall.

After Diff’rent Strokes, Coleman appeared in several television and Hollywood movies, but his acting career was sporadic. He began working as a security guard and a commercial pitchman.  He also briefly ran a video-game arcade in Marina del Rey, California. In 1989, Coleman became estranged from his parents, suing them and his former business manager for mismanaging his trust fund. Coleman won the lawsuit in 1993, and was awarded $1.28 million by a Santa Monica Superior Court judge but filed for bankruptcy protection six years later. In the 1990s Coleman was arrested several times for assault and disorderly conduct and later for domestic violence.

In 2006, Coleman met Shannon Price on the set of the comedy show, Church Ball.  They married in 2007, settling down in Santaquin, Utah. Coleman and Price divorced in 2008 but were living together when Coleman suffered a fall in their home, resulting in a fatal head injury. At the age of 42, Gary Coleman passed away on May 28, 2010 at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah.