The highest paid child star of his day, Coleman lived his adult life in the tabloids before his death at age 42.
Actor Gary Coleman, the cherub-faced child star whose health problems, public antics and financial hardships later made him a mainstay of celebrity gossip news, died today. He was 42.
Coleman suffered an intracranial hemorrhage on Wednesday at his home near Salt Lake City and was rushed to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition. Early reports were that he suffered the head injury after falling but remained alert until midday today, when his condition worsened and he slipped into unconsciousness. According to AP, he was then placed on life support until it was terminated at 12:05 p.m. MDT.
Coleman, was hospitalized twice this year, once after having a seizure while on the set of The Insider TV gossip show. As a child, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that stunted his growth and forced him to undergo two organ transplants.
Coleman was born Feb. 8, 1968, in Zion, Ill. He got his start in television playing minor roles on Good Times and The Jeffersons, but in 1978 he landed a spot on prime time as the cute, wise-cracking Arnold Drummond in Diff'rent Strokes. A "fish-out-of-water" sitcom also starring Todd Bridges, Dana Plato and Conrad Bain, Diff'rent Strokes was about two orphaned black brothers (played by Coleman and Bridges) who were adopted by a wealthy white family. The feisty young Coleman became an instant star, thanks to his trademark wisecrack, "Whatchu talkin' bout, Willis?" At one point, he was the highest paid child actor in history, earning $70,000 a week at the height of the show's success.
The series lasted six seasons on NBC and two on ABC, securing Coleman's place as an '80s icon. (VH1 ranked him No. 1 on its list of "100 Greatest Kid Stars.") Several feature films and made-for-TV movies followed, including On the Right Track and The Kid With the Broken Halo, but from then on Coleman's professional achievements always seemed to get overshadowed by his personal troubles.
In 1989, he successfully sued his parents for mismanaging his money, but a decade later, he ended up filing bankruptcy. His money troubles continued throughout adulthood, and at one point, he worked as a security guard to make ends meet--a job he lost after he was arrested for punching a woman who mocked him.
At 4-foot-8, Coleman, found it difficult to find work. He often complained that Hollywood didn't take him seriously, and as the years passed, he became increasingly bitter about it. Unlike his contemporary Emmanuel Lewis, who went on to attend college after his run as a child star ended, Coleman never managed to rebound.
Coleman's calamitous early years took their toll emotionally, and the actor openly discussed his battle with depression. In a 1993 television interview, he said he had twice tried to kill himself by overdosing on prescription medications. Along with his Diff'rent Strokes co-stars Todd Bridges and Dana Plato (who committed suicide in 1999), Coleman came to represent the tragedy that befalls many child actors after their time in the limelight has passed.
Meanwhile, Coleman remained in the headlines. In 2003, he ran for governor in California's recall election but was not treated as a serious contender. Just two years later, he was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Utah, where he lived, after a domestic incident between him and his new wife, Shannon Price. A year later, the couple appeared on the television show Divorce Court in an effort to save their marriage. Then, in January, Coleman was arrested for a second time on a domestic violence warrant after missing a court date.
Gary Coleman is survived by his wife, Shannon Price. Funeral arrangements have not been released by the family.
Chana Garcia is a regular contributor to The Root.