Gary Wayne Coleman was born on February 8, 1968. He was an American actor and child star who was known for his childhood role as Arnold Jackson on the American sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. The hit show aired between 1978-1986. Gary was a brilliant talent; his “Arnold Jackson” character brought laughter to many people across the world. He was described in the 1980s as “one of television’s most promising stars.” VH1 also rated Gary first on a list of “100 Greatest Child Stars” on television.
Aside from his fame on Diff’rent Strokes, Gary starred in, and/or appeared in numerous television movies and sitcoms, and commercials.
Gary was born in Zion, Illinois, just outside Chicago. He was adopted by Edmonia Sue and W.G. Coleman, a nurse practitioner and fork-lift operator, respectively. He suffered from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, an autoimmune kidney disease and because of his chronic illness, combined with the corticosteroids and other medications used to treat it, his growth was limited to just 4 ft 8 inches (1.42 m). However, his face retained a childlike appearance well into adulthood. He underwent two unsuccessful kidney transplants in 1973 and 1984, and required daily dialysis.
Gary’s career began in 1974 when he appeared in a commercial for Harris Bank. His line, after the announcer says “You should have a Harris banker” was “You should have a Hubert doll”. “Hubert” was a stuffed lion representing the Harris bank logo.The same year, he appeared in an episode of Medical Center.
Before his fame on Diff’rent Strokes, audiences caught wind of Gary’s memorable performances on The Jeffersons as Raymond, George Jefferson’s nephew, and on Good Times as Penny’s friend Gary. He also appeared in a 1979 pilot for a revival of The Little Rascals as Stymie. However, it was the show Diff’rent Strokes that would bring him fame.
Gary was cast in the role of Arnold Jackson in the television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, portraying one of two young black brothers adopted by a wealthy white widower in Manhattan.
Gary became the most popular fixture of the show, enhanced by his character’s catchphrase ”What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” At the height of his fame on Diff’rent Strokes, Gary earned as much as $100,000 per episode. A Biography Channel documentary estimated he was left with a quarter of the original amount after paying his parents, advisers, lawyers, and taxes.Unfortunately, after a successful childhood acting career, Gary struggled financially later in life. In 1989, he successfully sued his parents and business advisor over misappropriation of his finances and was awarded $1.3 million. A decade later he declared bankruptcy.
Gary’s Other Character Appearances
Gary starred in a number of feature films and made-for-TV movies including On the Right Track and The Kid with the Broken Halo. The latter eventually served as the basis for the Hanna-Barbera-produced animated series The Gary Coleman Show in 1982. Gary also made video game appearances in The Curse of Monkey Island (1997) and Postal 2 (2003). In 2005 Gary appeared in WWE Superstar John Cena’s music video for his single Bad, Bad Man (from the album You Can’t See Me), Gary played the part of himself as a bad guy taking the 1980′s pop stars Madonna and Michael Jackson hostage. The music video was a spoof of the 1980s culture, focusing on the A-Team television series.
Gary’s Candidacy for Governer of California
Gary was a candidate for governor of California in the 2003 California recall election. This campaign was sponsored by the free newsweekly East Bay Express as a satirical comment on the recall. After Arnold Schwarzenegger declared his candidacy, Coleman announced that he would vote for Schwarzenegger. Coleman placed 8th in a field of 135 candidates, receiving 14,242 votes.
Gary’s Personal Life
In a 1993 television interview, Gary said he had twice attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. Around that same time, Gary was living in Denver, Colorado, where he hosted a show at local radio station KHIH on Sunday nights called “Gary Coleman’s Colorado High.” He played light jazz and new age music and gave his salary to the Colorado Kidney Foundation.
In 2005, Gary moved from Los Angeles to Santaquin, a small town south of Salt Lake City, Utah, where he lived for the remainder of his life.In early 2007 he met 22-year-old Shannon Price on the set of the film Church Ball, where she was working as an extra. He married her several months later.
On May 1 and 2, 2008, Gary and his wife made a well-publicized appearance on the show Divorce Court to air their differences in an attempt to save their marriage. Nevertheless, they divorced in August 2008, citing irreconcilable differences. However, according to a court petition later filed by Price, the two continued to live together as husband and wife until his death.
Gary’s Financial struggles
In August 1999, Gary ended up filing for bankruptcy protection. Multiple people, he said, were responsible for his insolvency, “…from me, to accountants, to my adoptive parents, to agents, to lawyers, and back to me again.”
Also, ongoing medical expenses contributed significantly to Gary’s's chronic financial problems, and compelled him, at times, to resort to unusual fundraising activities. For instance, in 2008, he auctioned an autographed pair of his pants on eBay to help pay his medical bills. The auction attracted considerable attention, including fake bids up to $400,000. The pants were eventually bought for $500 by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who famously hung them from the rafters of his television studio.
Gary’s Legal Troubles
In 1998 Gary was charged with assault while he was working as a security guard. Tracy Fields, a Los Angeles bus driver and fan of Gary’s, approached him and requested his autograph while he was shopping for a bulletproof vest in a California mall. Gary refused to give her an autograph, an argument ensued, and Fields reportedly mocked Gary’s lackluster career as an actor. Gary then punched Fields in the face several times in front of witnesses.
He was arrested and later testified in court that she threatened him and he defended himself. “She wouldn’t leave me alone. I was getting scared, and she was getting ugly,” he said. Gary pleaded no contest to one count of assault, received a suspended jail sentence, and was ordered to pay Fields’ $1,665 hospital bill as well as take anger management classes.
In 2007, Gary was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah after a “heated discussion” in public with his then wife Shannon.
In 2008, Gary was involved in an automobile accident after an altercation at a Payson, Utah bowling alley which began when Colt Rushton, age 24, photographed Gary without his permission; the two men argued, according to witnesses. In the parking lot, Gary allegedly backed his truck into Rushton, striking his knee and pulling him under the vehicle, before hitting another car. Rushton was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries and released.Gary later pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct and reckless driving, and was fined $100. Also, in 2010, he settled a civil suit related to the incident for an undisclosed amount.
In 2009, Gary and Shannon Price were involved in a domestic dispute, after which his ex-wife was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, and both parties were cited for disorderly conduct.
In January 2010, Gary was arrested on an outstanding domestic assault warrant in Santaquin, booked into the Utah County Jail, and released the following day.
Gary’s Death and Memorial
Few details of Gary’s medical history have been made public. His short stature (4 feet, 8 inches or 1.42 meters), as previously stated, stemmed from a congenital autoimmune kidney disease and its treatment. He underwent at least two kidney transplants early in his life, and required frequent dialysis, which he preferred not to discuss. In 2009, he underwent heart surgery, details of which were never made public, but he was known to have developed pneumonia postoperatively. In January 2010 he was hospitalized after a seizure in Los Angeles, and in February he suffered another seizure on the set of The Insider television program.
On May 26, 2010, Gary was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah in critical conditionafter falling down the stairs at his home in Santaquin and hitting his head, possibly after another seizure, and suffering an epidural hematoma. According to a hospital spokesman, Gary was “conscious and lucid” the next morning, but his condition subsequently worsened. By mid-afternoon on May 27, he was unconscious and on life support. Gary died at 12:05 pm MDT (18:05 UTC) on May 28 at the age of 42.