» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments

Latest Entry: The RSS feed for this blog has moved

Washington Post staff writers offer a window into the art of obituary writing, the culture of death, and more about the end of the story.

Read more | What is this blog?

More From the Obits Section: Search the Archives  |   RSS Feeds RSS Feed   |   Submit an Obituary  |   Twitter Twitter
Gary Coleman, 42

Gary Coleman, child star of TV's 'Diff'rent Strokes,' dies at 42

The one-time child star dies at the age of 42.

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Matt Schudel
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gary Coleman, 42, the diminutive, wisecracking child star of the sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," whose adult life collapsed into a tabloid calamity, died Friday at a hospital in Provo, Utah. He suffered a brain hemorrhage after falling at his home in Santaquin, Utah.

This Story
View All Items in This Story
View Only Top Items in This Story

Mr. Coleman was 10 when he stepped into the national spotlight in 1978, playing the witty, lovable Arnold Jackson on NBC's "Diff'rent Strokes." The role was created for him and made Mr. Coleman the best-known child star on television for the eight years the hit comedy was on the air.

He played the younger of two orphaned African American brothers adopted by a white Manhattan millionaire after the death of their mother, the rich man's housekeeper. The show was a comedic showcase for Mr. Coleman, who looked younger than his age because his growth had been stunted by a congenital kidney condition.

On the set, he proved to be a thorough professional who could memorize his dialogue in a single reading and deliver it with perfect timing. His signature line, directed toward his brother, played by Todd Bridges, became a nationwide catch phrase: "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

"The true star of the show is 10-year-old Gary Coleman as 8-year-old Arnold," Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales wrote when the show premiered, calling Mr. Coleman "a most unusual tot with a strikingly professional comic delivery."

Newsweek pronounced him "NBC's Littlest Big Man" and "possibly the most original vid-kid since Howdy Doody."

The show was such a cultural touchstone that first lady Nancy Reagan appeared on "Diff'rent Strokes" in 1983 to make an anti-drug pitch.

Mr. Coleman also had his own Saturday morning cartoon show and was a guest on "The Tonight Show," where he upstaged Johnny Carson, who jokingly asked whether he wanted to take over the rest of the show.

"With all the laughing and cheering out there," he replied, "quite possibly."

As Mr. Coleman's salary rose from $1,500 to $70,000 an episode, his fragile health continued to deteriorate. He had undergone two kidney transplants by the time he was 14, and he was on dialysis while taping "Diff'rent Strokes."

When the show was canceled in 1986, he was 18 and had amassed a personal fortune estimated at $18 million. But his life quickly devolved into a sorry spectacle of lawsuits, countersuits, recriminations and hurt feelings.

He sued his parents and advisers for taking money from trust funds meant to support him as he grew older. In court, his parents charged that Mr. Coleman had been brainwashed by a manager and was not competent to handle his affairs. In the end, Mr. Coleman won a $1.28 million settlement, but his relationship with his parents was all but fractured.


CONTINUED     1        >

» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments

More in the Obituary Section

Post Mortem

Post Mortem

The art of obituary writing, the culture of death, and more about the end of the story.

From the Archives

From the Archives

Read Washington Post obituaries and view multimedia tributes to Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, James Brown and more.

[Campaign Finance]

A Local Life

This weekly feature takes a more personal look at extraordinary people in the D.C. area.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity