Gary Coleman was an American actor and comedian who is known for brilliant portrayal of Arnold Jackson in the American sitcom 'Diff'rent Strokes' that aired on NBC from 1978 to 1985. Beginning his career as a child actor, he ruled the hearts of the American audience and gradually became a popular household name during the 1980s. He had also been featured at the top of the list showcasing the most promising stars of the television in that decade. He had a fun, easy going personality and charmed everyone with his lively black eyes. He never failed to exude ample confidence even though he had stunted growth and suffered from certain physical abnormalities. Having shot to fame at such an early age, he dealt with it amazingly and focussed on his career with great devotion. He was essentially a people’s person and had the special gift of effortlessly mixing with people and encouraging a lot of positive interaction. The chubby, pouty-lipped boy had also been termed as “NBC’s Littlest Big Man” and he excelled in the art of making people laugh! He bravely embraced his differences and his funny dialogues soon became America’s most favourite catchphrases. Though he did not have a long career and died relatively young, he was successful in winning a lot of appreciation for his sharp acting skills and fearless spirit.
Childhood & Early Life
Gary Wayne Coleman was born on February 8, 1968 in Zion, Illinois (on the outskirts of the city of Chicago). As an infant he was adopted by W.G. Coleman and Edmonia Sue, who worked as a fork-lit operator and a nurse practitioner respectively.
Since childhood, he suffered from a serious case of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis which is caused by a nephrotic syndrome in children and generally led to kidney failure as an adult. This problematic case of an autoimmune kidney disease greatly affected Gary and he had to show a tremendous level of courage in order to face it.
As a consequence of him suffering from a serious illness and the regular intake of strong medications (like corticosteroids), his growth was stunted and his height was limited to 4 feet and 8 inches as an adult. His physical issues also manifested in a permanently immature, child-like face that made him feel awkward with his appearance on growing up.
The fact that he had a very difficult early life was evident from the two unsuccessful kidney transplants that he had in the years 1973 and 1984. Following the consecutive failures, he had no other option but to opt for daily dialysis in order to survive.
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Gary Coleman began modelling as a young boy of five and appeared in commercials for McDonald's and Hallmark. In the year 1974, he featured in a TV commercial for Harris Bank. He also appeared in an episode of the TV show ‘Medical Center’, in the same year.
With a stroke of good luck, he was spotted by a team of talent scouts under the wing of Norman Lear and he was featured as a comic actor in some of Lear’s popular sitcoms like ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘Good Times’.
The NBC was quick to take notice of Coleman’s special skills as a comedian and offered him his own sitcom at the unbelievably young age of ten! The legendary TV show, ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ needs no introduction and blessed him with an incredible fan base! The underlying motive of the show was to preach on the taboo issue of racial tolerance in the nation.
His role of Arnold Jackson in ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ was highly appreciated and earned the young star many fans throughout America. The successful show ran from 1978 to 1986.
Gary Coleman’s career however dwindled in the late 1980s and he was plagued by many troublesome issues in his personal and professional life. He also struggled financially and could not transition into a successful actor as an adult.
As a child actor, Gary Coleman was involved with many light-hearted TV-film projects like ‘The Kid From Left Field’ (1979), ‘Scout’s Honor’ (1980), ‘The Kid With The Broken Halo’ (1982), ‘The Kid With The 200 I.Q.’ (1983), ‘The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins’ (1984) and ‘Playing With Fire’ (1985). He also appeared in films like ‘On the Right Track’ (1981) and ‘Jimmy The Kid’ (1982).
The young actor shot to further stardom with the special animated series called ‘The Gary Coleman Show’ (1982) produced under the world famous banner of Hanna-Barbera.
Personal Life & Legacy
In an interview, Gary Coleman had confessed about his double attempts at committing suicide by overdosing on pills as he was unable to deal with his longstanding depression.
During his stay in Denver, Colorado, he played light jazz and new age music on the Sunday night show that he hosted. He donated a generous amount of his salary to the Colorado Kidney Foundation.
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In 1989, he displayed the courage to sue his adoptive parents along with his former business advisor on account of the misappropriation of his trust fund. He went on to win the case in 1993 and won a $1.28 million judgement.
In 1998, he was charged with a case of assault, during his tenure as an actor in “Diff’rent Strokes”. According to facts, he punched a fan (Tracy Fields) several times in the face when she mocked him as he had previously refused to give her an autograph.
In 1999, Coleman applied for bankruptcy protection and confessed that many were responsible for his insolvency – his adoptive parents, his lawyers, his agents, and last but not the least, himself.
In the year 2007, he met Shannon Price on the sets of the film ‘Church Ball’ and married her. They later got divorced in 2008 owing to irreconcilable differences in their conjugal life.
In 2007, he was summoned to the court as he had displayed ‘disorderly conduct’ over a heated discussion with his wife in the full view of the public.
In the year 2009, he reportedly underwent a heart surgery and unfortunately, he developed a serious case of pneumonia after the operation.
On May 26, 2010 he was admitted to the hospital after he fell from the stairs and suffered a head injury (epidural hematoma). He died shortly after the incident on May 28 at the age of 42.
Due to his ever-growing popularity as a child actor, Gary Coleman was added to the list of ‘100 Greatest Child Stars’ by VH1.
He became synonymous with his iconic character, Arnold Jackson, in the TV show, ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ and the catchphrase “What’chu talkin’ about, Willis?” became a huge rage!
He was a great fan of trains and was a model railroader too. He wholeheartedly supported Amtrak, which is a passenger railroad service. He developed this interest at the tender age of five, during his stay in Chicago.