For other people named Gary Coleman, see Gary Coleman (disambiguation).
Gary Wayne Coleman (February 8, 1968 - May 28, 2010) was an American actor, known for his childhood role as Arnold Jackson in the American sitcom Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1986) and for his small stature as an adult. He was described in the 1980s as "one of television's most promising stars". After a successful childhood acting career, Coleman struggled financially later in life. In 1989, he successfully sued his parents and business advisor over misappropriation of his assets, only to declare bankruptcy a decade later.
Coleman was born in Zion, Illinois, 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. Because of his chronic illness, combined with the corticosteroids and other medications used to treat it, his growth was limited to 4 ft 7 in (1.40 m), and his face retained a childlike appearance well into adulthood. He underwent two unsuccessful kidney transplants in 1973 and 1984, and required daily dialysis.
Coleman'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.
While best known for his role on Diff'rent Strokes, Coleman had appeared earlier on television, 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.VH1 rated Coleman first on a list of "100 Greatest Child Stars" on television.
Coleman was cast in the role of Arnold Jackson in the television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, portraying one of two young African-American brothers adopted by a wealthy white widower in Manhattan. The successful show was broadcast from 1978 to 1986.
Coleman became the most popular fixture of the show, enhanced by his character's catchphrase "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" At the height of his fame on Diff'rent Strokes, he earned as much as US$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. He later successfully sued his parents and his former advisers for misappropriation of his finances and was awarded $1.3 million. According to castmate Todd Bridges' autobiography Killing Willis, Coleman was made to work long hours on the set of Diff'rent Strokes despite his age and health problems, and this contributed to his being unhappy and separating himself from the cast.
Later character appearances:
Coleman became a popular figure, starring 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. Coleman also made video game appearances in The Curse of Monkey Island (1997) and Postal 2 (2003). In 2005 Coleman appeared in WWE Superstar John Cena's music video for his single "Bad, Bad Man" (from the album You Can't See Me), Coleman played himself as a bad guy taking the 1980s pop stars Madonna and Michael Jackson hostage. The video was a spoof of 80s culture, focusing on The A-Team television series.
Candidacy for Governor of California:
Coleman was a candidate for governor 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.
Coleman is parodied in the hit Broadway musical Avenue Q, which won the 2004 Tony Award for best musical. A character presented as Coleman works as the superintendent of the apartment complex where the musical takes place. In the song "It Sucks to Be Me", he laments his fate. On Broadway, the role was originally played by Natalie Venetia Belcon.
The show's creators, Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, have said that the Coleman character is a personification of one of Avenue Q's central themes: that as children we are told we are "special", but upon entering adulthood we discover that life is not nearly as easy as we have been led to believe. They added that they originally considered asking Coleman himself to play the Gary Coleman role, and he expressed interest in accepting it, but never showed up for a meeting scheduled to discuss it.
In 2005 Coleman announced his intention to sue the producers of Avenue Q for their depiction of him, although the lawsuit never materialized. At the 2007 New York Comic Con, Coleman said, "I wish there was a lawyer on Earth that would sue them for me."
The Coleman character lives on in the show, despite the death of its inspiration, after minor dialogue adjustments.
In a 1993 television interview, Coleman said he had twice attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. Around the same time he was living in Denver, Colorado, where he hosted a Sunday night show on local radio station KHIH called Gary Coleman's Colorado High, in which he played light jazz and New Age music. He gave his salary to the Colorado Kidney Foundation.
In 2005, Coleman 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 Shannon Price, 22, on the set of the film Church Ball, where she was working as an extra, and married her several months later. On May 1 and 2, 2008, they 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, but according to a court petition later filed by Price, continued to live together as husband and wife until his death.
In August 1999, Coleman filed 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."
Ongoing medical expenses contributed significantly to Coleman's chronic financial problems, and compelled him, at times, to resort to unusual fundraising activities. In 2008, for example, he auctioned an autographed pair of his trousers on eBay to help pay his medical bills. The auction attracted considerable attention, including fake bids up to $400,000. The trousers were eventually bought for $500 by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who famously hung them from the rafters of his television studio.
In 1989, Coleman sued his adoptive parents and former business advisor for $3.8 million over misappropriation of his trust fund, and won a $1,280,000 judgment in 1993.
Coleman was charged with assault in 1998, while he was working as a security guard. Tracy Fields, a Los Angeles bus driver and fan of Coleman's work on Diff'rent Strokes, approached him and requested his autograph while he was shopping for a bulletproof vest in a California mall. Coleman refused to give her an autograph, an argument ensued, and Fields reportedly mocked Coleman's lackluster career as an actor. Coleman 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. Coleman 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, Coleman was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah after a "heated discussion" in public with his wife.
In 2008, Coleman was involved in an automobile accident after an altercation at a Payson, Utah bowling alley which began when Colt Rushton, age 24, photographed Coleman without his permission; the two men argued, according to witnesses. In the parking lot, Coleman 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. Coleman later pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct and reckless driving, and was fined $100. In 2010, he settled a civil suit related to the incident for an undisclosed amount.
In 2009, Coleman and 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, Coleman was arrested on an outstanding domestic assault warrant in Santaquin, booked into the Utah County Jail, and released the following day.
Trains and model railroading:
Coleman was an avid railfan, model railroader, and supporter of Amtrak. Coleman became interested in trains sometime before the age of five during his frequent train trips to Chicago in support of his burgeoning acting career. Fans often saw him at stores specializing in model trains in areas in which he lived, and he worked part-time at Denver-area, Tucson-area, and California hobby stores in order for him to be around his hobby. Coleman built and maintained miniature railroads in his homes in several states. One of Coleman's train layouts appears in the September 1990 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Coleman is photographed on the front cover, with his "Rio Grande" layout. Coleman preferred to model in HO scale, but modeled in other scales, as well. One such model railroad was over 800 square-feet in size. Currently, at least one of his model railroads is being preserved in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Death and memorial:
Very few details of Coleman's medical history have been made public. His short stature (4 feet, 7 inches or 1.40 meters) stemmed from 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, Coleman was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah in critical condition after 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, Coleman 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. He died at 12:05 pm MDT (18:05 UTC) on May 28 at the age of 42.
The casts of the Off Broadway production of Avenue Q in New York City and the Avenue Q National Tour in Dallas dedicated their May 28 performances to his memory, and the actors playing the Coleman role paid tribute to him from the stage at the performances' conclusions. (The Coleman character remained in the show after modifications were made to relevant dialog.)
The weekend after Coleman's death, a scheduled funeral was postponed and later canceled due to a dispute regarding the disposition of his estate and remains between Coleman's adoptive parents, Price, and former business associate Anna Gray. Coleman's former manager Dion Mial was involved initially, but withdrew after Coleman's 1999 will, which named Mial as executor and directed that his wake be "...conducted by those with no financial ties to me and can look each other in the eyes and say they really cared personally for Gary Colemen sic", turned out to be superseded by a later one replacing Mial with Gray, and directing "...that there be no funeral service, wake, or other ceremony memorializing my passing."
Questions were also raised as to whether Price, who authorized discontinuation of Coleman's life support, had the legal authority to do so. The controversy was exacerbated by a photograph published on the front page of the tabloid newspaper The Globe depicting Price posed next to a comatose, intubated Coleman, under the headline, "It Was Murder!"
The hospital later issued a statement confirming that Coleman had completed an advance health care directive granting Price permission to make medical decisions on his behalf. An investigation by Santaquin police was closed on October 5, 2010, after the medical examiner ruled Coleman's death "accidental", and no evidence of wrongdoing could be demonstrated.
Coleman's remains were cremated, per his wishes, in June, after a Utah judge agreed that there was no dispute regarding that issue. However, disposition of the ashes was delayed pending a judicial decision on permanent control of the estate. Coleman's final will, signed in 2005, names Gray as executor, and awards his entire estate to her. However, Price and Coleman married in 2007; and while they divorced in 2008, Price claimed in a court petition that she remained Coleman's common-law wife, sharing bank accounts and presenting themselves publicly as husband and wife, until his death; an assertion that, if validated by the court, would make her the lawful heir.
Price said that should she be granted disposition of Coleman's remains, she planned to scatter the ashes at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah as a tribute to his lifelong love of trains. However, in May 2012 Judge James Taylor ruled that while Price had lived in Coleman's home after their marriage ended, their relationship at the time of his death failed to meet Utah's standard for a common-law marriage.
Kid from Left Field, TheThe Kid from Left Field
Jackie Robinson "J.R." Cooper
On the Right Track
First feature film
Kid with the Broken Halo, TheThe Kid with the Broken Halo
Jimmy the Kid
Kid with the 200 I.Q., TheThe Kid with the 200 I.Q.
Fantastic World of D.C. Collins, TheThe Fantastic World of D.C. Collins
Playing with Fire
Short film, Associate producer
Murray Lipschitz, Jr.
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's
Like Father, Like Santa
Flunky, TheThe Flunky
Frank McKlusky, C.I.
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
Carol Christmas, AA Carol Christmas
Chasing the Edge
Christmas Too Many, AA Christmas Too Many
Pizza Delivery Guy
American Carol, AnAn American Carol
Bacon Stains Malone
Midgets vs. Mascots
Last film appearance
The Little Rascals
The Facts of Life
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Episode "The Cosmic Wiz Kid", also has a cameo in a later episode
The Gary Coleman Show
Simon & Simon
"Like Father, Like Son"
Season 1: Episode 10 - "Remote Control Man"
The Ben Stiller Show
The Wayans Bros.
Pilot Episode: "Goop, Hair-It-Is" as himself
Married... with Children
Season 8, Episode 16: How Green Was My Apple,
Season 10, Episode 27: The Joke's on Al
Season 3, Episode 20: High Noon as Mad Dog No Good
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Season 6, Episode 24: I, Done: Part 2
The Parent 'Hood
Season 3, Episode 22: Rappin' It Up
Season 11, Episode 9: Grift of the Magi,
Season 12, Episode 2: A Tale of Two Springfields"
The Jamie Foxx Show
Season 5, Episode 9: Cupid
Son of the Beach
Season 1, Episode 12: Attack of the Cocktopuss,
Season 3, Episode 11: The Long Hot Johnson
Season 4, Episode 8: Whatchoo Stalkin' About, Willis?
My Wife and Kids
Season 2, Episode 2:Mom's Away: Part 2,
Season 2, Episode 4: Perfect Dad
Season 1, Episode 5: House of the Rising Son
Season 1, Episode 6: Gary Coleman
The Drew Carey Show
"What's Wrong with this Episode? IV"
Season 4, Episode 8: It's Gary Coleman
A Carol Christmas
Ghost of Christmas Past
BET Comedy Awards
The 2nd Annual TV Land Awards
The Surreal Life
Season 2, Episode 2: Mel's Dinner
Drake & Josh
Season 2, Episode 12: The Gary Grill
The 6th Annual TV Land Awards
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
Episodes: Hits and Misses,
The Horrible Terrible Misadventures of David Atkins
Season 1, Episode 1: Welcome to Atkins Land
Season 5, Episode 9: No Country For Old Dogs (Posthumous)
Coleman was a character in the game Postal 2 as himself, providing the voice and motion capture. He also portrayed Kenny Falmouth in The Curse of Monkey Island.
John Cena - Bad, Bad Man as himself,
'N Sync - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays as Santa's elf,
Kid Rock - Cowboy as himself,
Moby - We Are All Made of Stars as himself,
Raging Slab - Anywhere But Here as himself