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Gary Coleman: The Life of a Legendary Child Actor

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By Robyn H. Jimenez, Special to the NNPA from the Dallas Examiner –

(NNPA) - Gary W. Coleman was perhaps the most famous child star in history. He was known for his small stature, lovable charm and incredible talent as a young comedic actor.

Born in Illinois Feb. 8, 1968, he was adopted by a forklift operator and nurse practitioner.

At less than 5 ft. tall, Coleman’s child-like appearance never seemed to mature due to a congenital kidney disease, which caused him to stop growing at a very early age. He also suffered from seizures, according to reports.

Coleman underwent a kidney transplant in 1973. A few years later, he landed a role on The Jefferson’s and Good Times as George’s precocious nephew Raymond, who came for a 6-week stay. His character quickly began driving George crazy, while winning the heart of the wife, Louise.

He also played Gary James, a tiny participant with a big character in a play that Penny – played by Janet Jackson – was directing, on Good Times. Coleman stormed in like a whirlwind, delivering one hilarious line after the other perfectly. And then he was gone.

In 1976, Norman Lear created Different Strokes, featuring Coleman as an adorable, unpredictable, smart-mouth little boy. The cast included Todd Bridges, who played Arnold’s older brother Willis; Conrad Bain, who played Philip Drummond, a wealthy widower who adopted the boys, Dana Plato, who played Kimberly, Philip’s daughter and Charlotte Rae, who played Edna Garrett, the lovable housekeeper.

Ironically, Coleman and Plato were both adopted.

The show later included Dixie Carter, Philip’s new wife, and Danny Cooksey, who played her son.

Coleman became famous for his line, “Whatcha talkin bout Willis?” The show brought in celebrities and athletes, such as Mr. T, Reggie Jackson, In 1979 he starred in the movie, The Kid From Left Field. He also appeared on the Lucille Ball Special, where he was applauded for his comedic timing.

He received a People’s Choice Award, in 1980.

In 1981, Coleman starred in On the Right Track as Lester, a homeless boy who lived in the railway and made a living as a shoeshine boy.

He also starred in the 1982 film, The Kid with the Broken Halo playing Andy, an irreverent angel-in-training who is constantly getting in trouble. Later that year, he was featured in The Gary Coleman Show, an animated show based on his angelic character, Andy. The show ran for 13 episodes.

Coleman’s health continued to decline and he had to have a second kidney transplant, in 1984. Afterwards, he had to receive dialysis on a daily basis. Yet, he continued to work. In a televised interview, Coleman once talked about how exhausted he was at times, during the taping of the show. Bridges stated in an Internet interview a few months ago, that Coleman’s parents were making him work, even when he was rejecting his kidney and again after his surgery.

“Throwing up, deathly ill, looking like he was death warmed over… and I started crying because I couldn’t believe his parents were forcing him to work,” Bridges stated, remembering a time when he was sick with a fever and his mother told him to stay home from work and called in for him. He went on to say that his mother was informed that if she didn’t get him to the set, he was fired. “And my mother said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to fire him then, because he ain’t coming back. The studio sent a physician to validate the illness and Bridges was cleared to stay home.

This wasn’t the first time allegations had been made of Coleman being forced to work despite his illness.

When Different Strokes ended in 1986, Coleman’s career began to fall apart. Afterwards, he refused to communicate with anyone that had anything to do with the show.

Throughout the years, the three original siblings had various run-ins with the law. Plato admitted to abusing prescription drugs while she was still with the show. She continued to misuse drugs and was arrested twice before overdosing and ending her life. Bridges reveals his issues with drugs and the law in an autobiography that was released earlier this year. Coleman admittedly had anger management problems, which led to his arrest.

On one occasion, he was brought up on charges of battery toward a woman who asked him to autograph a piece of paper. He agreed, but after signing it, she gave it back to him and asked him to write more. According to Coleman, when he refused, the woman began making unkind remarks about his career. Bridges described Coleman as a bitter little man, but said he didn’t blame him after all he had been through.

Coleman took his parents and advisers to court in 1989, suing them for misappropriating his $3.8 million trust fund. In 1993, they reached a settlement of just over $1 million, in Coleman’s favor. He never recovered his relationship with his parents, who many say goes much deeper than just money.

During an interview in 1993, he discussed his deep depression and having attempted suicide twice. In 1999, he filed for bankruptcy.

In 2003, during the gubernatorial recall election for California governor, Coleman threw his hat into the ring with 134 other candidates, of which many were celebrities. In November, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the votes and was sworn in as governor.

In 2005, Coleman began working as a commentator, covering the Michael Jackson trial for All Comedy Radio.

In March 2007, shocking footage of Coleman working as a security guard was released on national television show. The public was partly shocked that the child star had to take a low-paying job at a shopping mall. But the public was also shocked that, in an attempt to block someone from taking photos of another well-known celebrity, Coleman climbed on the person’s vehicle and began threatening to break one of the driver’s windshield wipers.

Later that year, he was featured in commercials for Cash Call, a national personal and mortgage loan agency.

On Aug. 28, 2007, Coleman married Shannon Price, his 22-year-old girlfriend that he had been dating for only five months. The marriage stayed hidden from the public for six months. He said that they met on the set of Church Ball, a comedy about a team of misfits on a church basketball team whose goal toward brotherly love and sportsmanship comes up against a competitive drive to the championship. Coleman said in an interview, that Price was his first love and his first romantic relationship.

The couple made appearances on a few daytime talk shows, professing their love for one another. But when asked why they had not revealed their marriage for several months, Coleman stated, “It’s nobody’s business what we do.”

The two were far from living happily-ever-after. In the past three years, police have been called out to the Coleman residence several times for domestic disturbance. Some reports indicate that there have been over 20 police visits to the home, including domestic disputes and suicide attempts. They attempted to resolve their issues by appearing on Divorce Court, in May 2008, to get advice from Judge Lynn Toler.

While back in chambers, the two said that they mainly fought about having children. After suffering greatly from his kidney disease since early childhood, Coleman was worried about his children having to struggle through the same thing. Not knowing who his parents were, he couldn’t be sure if it was inherited or if there were other disorders that he was unaware of. However, his wife was sure that the chance of having a sick child was slim.

“We may go a week and not speak to each other,” he said in a televised interview, denying that they had a volatile relationship.

Eleven months ago, his wife was arrested for domestic violence; both were cited for disorderly conduct. But at the beginning of this year, Coleman was arrested for domestic violence, according to reports. He made television appearances to tell his side of the story and ended up losing his temper. At times he used vulgarity towards his aggressive interviewers.

During one of those appearances, he is shown yelling at his interviewer, after being provoked regarding statements of domestic violence, then walking off of the set. It was reported that he suffered from a seizure shortly after and was rushed to the hospital after being examined by Dr. Drew Pinsky of Celebrity Rehab, who happened to be in the studio at the time.

On May 27, Coleman was injured in his home. Details of the accident have not been released, however, it was reported that he had a head injury that lead to a brain hemorrhage. He was reportedly awake and lucid initially, but fell into a comma hours later and was placed on life support.

The next day, his wife made the decision to take him off of life support and he died soon after. The official cause of his death is still under investigation. Though sometimes scoffed at, the legendary actor is remembered fondly throughout the country. Coleman was 42.

Information taken from viewed clipped of interviews on NBC Today, The Insider, Fox News, Inside Edition and The Young Turks. Filmography obtained from The Internet Movie Database.

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0 # John Felix Koziol 2013-01-11 02:24
It is SO sad how people mistreat the young by mishandling them the way that they so, only thinking about how they can benefit by them Such is the story of Gary Coleman who even had his own parents take advantage of him. Once upon a time, he was on top of the world and the next he was barely groveling on the ground, doing whatever he could to make a buck. Occasionally, it would be from an acting job or from who he was banking on the role he hated so much later on to make a piece of income. At times things got so bad he had to find work in other ways whatever those ways were. I can't help but think that at least a part of him was hoping to die and through that brain hemorrhaging he suffered from, it gave him the peace and tranquility you could tell he wanted in the worst way. I also can't help but think he is now at his happiest wherever that place may be. Godspeed Gary. Wherever you are, I hope that you are actually at peace and are happy.

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