Gary Coleman never had a particularly easy life. Right from the get-go, the cards seemed to be stacked against him. For starters, when he was adopted at the tender age of one day old, he already had an atrophied kidney. His kidney issues would prove to be one of the biggest struggles in his relatively short-lived life.
Ultimately, the four-foot eight-inch Diff’rent Strokes star died at the age of 42 after suffering a brain hemorrhage, and in the days and months leading up to his passing, he struggled to reconcile with his faded fame, his failing health, and his family struggles.
Join us as we take a closer look at some of the most tragic details of Gary Coleman’s life. He was a man that at one point had fame, fortune, and all the trappings of success, but by the time he was middle-aged, he had lost it all. His story serves as a cautionary tale detailing the reality of what it’s like growing up as a child star.
Gary Coleman’s Early Years
Gary Coleman was born in Zion, Illinois, on February 8, 1968. When he was just a day old, he was adopted by W.G. Coleman, a hard-working forklift operator, and Edmonia Sue, a nurse practitioner.
Gary was a sickly child, and eventually, he was diagnosed with a rare congenital kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. Because of his health issues and the medications that he needed to take to manage them, his growth was stunted, and he only ever reached a height of 4 feet 8 inches.
His facial features also remained very childlike even once he entered adulthood. In 1973, Coleman received his first kidney transplant. He had to have another kidney transplant just eleven years later. Throughout his life, he had to regularly undergo dialysis treatments as well.
Coleman’s Entrance Into Hollywood
Coleman’s career began in 1974 when he appeared in a television commercial for Harris Bank. Later that year, he made an appearance in an episode of the CBS drama series Medical Center.
In 1978, Coleman made appearances in both The Jeffersons and Good Times. A year prior, he starred in a pilot episode of a reboot of the classic Little Rascals series as the character Stymie. Unfortunately, that pilot didn’t end up getting picked up.
But even though that series didn’t end up going anywhere, Coleman still managed to catch the attention of a network executive who saw his potential and wanted to find a spot for the young fledgling actor in Hollywood.
That’s when Coleman was cast as Arnold Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes – a role that would be the most defining one of his life. Arnold was one of two African American brothers from Harlem that were adopted by a well-off white widower from Manhattan.
Diff’rent strokes became a huge hit with audiences and critics alike and went on to run for eight seasons until 1988. For his work on the series, Coleman was honored with five Young Artist Award Nominations – of which he ended up winning two. He also won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Young TV Performer four years running between the years of 1980 and 1983.
At the peak of his turn on Diff’rent Strokes, Coleman earned $100,000 per episode, and his signature catchphrase ‘What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis’ became a cultural phenomenon.
While working on the show, Coleman was required to work long hours on set even though he had numerous health problems and was very young at the time. These less-than-ideal working conditions heavily contributed to him being especially unhappy. On top of that, he felt very disconnected from the rest of the cast of the show.
But even though these years were particularly rough on him, his problems only worsened once the show came to a close. Staying relevant as a former child star is historically one of the most challenging things for a younger actor to accomplish. Gary found himself typecast and never really was able to escape his image. This unfortunate position – which so many other child stars have found themselves in – proved to be one of the biggest hurdles of his life both on a professional and psychological level.
But even though he struggled to find roles after Diff’rent Strokes came to a conclusion, he arguably should have been set up for the rest of his life – at least financially speaking. But what should have been a glorious success story standing as a testament to the American dream quickly unraveled into quite the ngihtmare.
By the time Diff’rent Strokes wrapped up in 1988, it’s estimated that at least 3/4ths of Coleman’s wealth was already gone. In 1989, Gary sued his parents and his former financial advisers for misappropriating his funds. In 1993, he was awarded $1.3 million for his troubles.
Sadly, that only proved to be the beginning of his woes because as he tried his best to transition from being a child star to an adult star, his difficulties only mounted.
Coleman’s History Of Violence
In 1998, Coleman made national headlines when he picked up a job working as a security guard at a Los Angeles Bank, and shortly after, he reportedly assaulted a fan who was demanding his autograph. Coleman claimed that the fan had harassed him and ridiculed him for his failed career, but what started as an argument got ugly when Gary started attacking her. Allegedly, Coleman hit the female fan in the face several times, but when he went to court, he claimed that it was in self-defense.
Coleman was charged with assault and ultimately was given a suspended jail sentence and was ordered to attend anger management classes. But those courses didn’t seem to be effective because in 2007, he was slapped with another misdemeanor charge for disorderly conduct after attacking a fan once again.
This incident involved a fan taking a photo of Coleman without his permission. After Colt Rushton snapped the offending picture of Gary, an argument broke out in a parking lot. That’s when Coleman allegedly backed his truck into Rushton. When he struck the man, Coleman’s truck hit him in the knees and forced him to fall under the car.
Fortunately, Rushton was not seriously injured in the incident, but Coleman was still charged with both reckless driving and disorderly conduct.
In an attempt to revamp his public image, Coleman later ran for governor of California in 2003 when the state held a recall election, but he only received a small fraction of the popular vote.
Coleman’s Turbulent Marriage To Shannon Price
The majority of Coleman’s adult life was marred by failures and public embarrassment. It seemed that no matter what he set out to do, his efforts always failed.
After falling in love with Shannon Price, a beautiful, tall 22-year-old white ginger who became his first wife in 2007, he went on national television announcing that up until then, he had been a virgin. In 2008, the couple appeared on Divorce Court after falling into marital problems. But despite their troubles, the two remained together.
In 2010, Coleman began to experience seizures and had to be admitted to the hospital. After being released, his condition continued to deteriorate, and not long after, he had another serious seizure that resulted in him falling down a flight of stairs which resulted in a hematoma.
Shannon Price, who was his ex-wife at this point, was in his home at the time of the fall, and she later faced heavy scrutiny after the 911 call was made public due to the fact that she sounded calm and not in the least bit concerned about Coleman’s well-being. Beyond just sounding very cavalier on the phone call, she also admitted to not going near Coleman’s body and not even attempting to help him because she couldn’t stand the sight of blood.
After paramedics arrived, Coleman was rushed to the hospital, but by the following day, his condition had deteriorated to the point that he had to be put on life support. Coleman passed away on May 28, 2010, after Price decided to remove him from life support. He was 42 years old when he died.
After his death, there was much confusion about his will. Coleman’s most recent update to it was in 2005 when he listed an ex-girlfriend as his sole heir and beneficiary. Price attempted to argue in court that she was entitled to what little he had left at the time of his death, but the judge failed to award her with the verdict she was hoping for.
Because of this ongoing legal debacle, Coleman’s funeral ended up being canceled, and he was eventually cremated, although it’s never been reported where his ashes wound up.
Really, what we’ve covered in this video is only the tip of the iceberg of the struggles and difficulties that Gary Coleman experienced throughout his life. We could easily detail the many low points of his life and career for hours.
Were you aware that Gary Coleman had so many difficulties, obstacles, and roadblocks in his life? And were you aware that when he died, he was essentially broke, alone, and defeated? Feel free to leave us a comment down below with your perspective on this troubled man’s life story.
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