Sitcom actor and tabloid staple Gary Coleman, 42, died on Friday (May 28) at 12:05 p.m. (Mountain Time), after slipping into critical condition on Thursday following an earlier fall in which he injured his head and suffered a serious brain hemmorhage.
The actor, whose congenital kidney disease halted his childhood growth at an early age, had suffered a series of health setbacks in recent years. He was admitted to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo on Wednesday after hitting his head in an unexplained fall and had reportedly slipped into critical condition by the next day. On Friday, doctors announced that he was unconscious and on life support in a coma due to an intracranial hemorrhage, which results from a broken or ruptured blood vessel causes bleeding inside the skull.
“Family members and close friends were at his side when life support was terminated,” read a hospital statement on the actor, according to People magazine. “Family members express their appreciation and gratitude for the support and prayers that have been expressed for Gary and for them.”
Born in Zion, Illinois, on February 8, 1968, Coleman was adopted as an infant by a local couple. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune dysfunction called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a congenital kidney disease that stunted his growth (he was 4’8″) and required two kidney transplants as well as daily dialysis.
Coleman began modeling at age 5, after writing a pitch letter to a local Montgomery Ward store in an effort to get work, which also resulted in gigs for McDonald’s and Hallmark. Discovered by a talent scout for sitcom legend Noman Lear, who cast him in a never-produced revival of “The Little Rascals,” Coleman began his acting career in 1974 with brief appearances on “Medical Center,” followed by roles in the sitcoms “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.”
He landed the part of a lifetime as Arnold Jackson in the 1978 sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” in which he played the apple-cheeked, adorable adopted black son of a wealthy white Manhattan family. Coleman won over America during the show’s eight-year run with his charming innocence and signature wisecracking catchphrase, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Willis?” aimed at his older brother, played by fellow troubled teen actor Todd Bridges. At the height of the show’s popularity, the child star was making almost $100,000 an episode.
Coleman failed to capitalize on the success of the “Strokes,” and his career petered out via roles in dud movies such as “On the Right Track” and 1983’s “Jimmy the Kid.” He continued to get sporadic TV work on shows ranging from “227” to “Martin” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but spent much of the past two decades appearing in B-movie schlock such as “The Curse of Monkey Island,” “The Flunky,” “Church Ball” and last year’s mockumentary “Midgets vs. Mascots.”
As his professional career faded, Coleman became famous for being famous, suing his parents for misappropriation of his trust fund, claiming that they drained his $18 million in career earnings from him, leaving him penniless as an adult. He pleaded no contest in 1999 to disturbing the peace after punching a female autograph seeker in California, just a year after allegedly striking a pedestrian with his truck following an argument outside a Salt Lake City bowling alley.
In addition to announcing a 2000 run for a U.S. Senate seat from California as part of the HECK (Homelessness, Education, Crime and Killers) platform, he ran for governor in the state in 2003, where he finished eighth, barely edging out pseudo-celebs including porn star Mary Cary, melon-smashing comedian Gallagher and famous-for-being-famous pinup Angelyne.
Later in life, he was forced to work as a security guard on a movie set in 2008 when acting gigs dried up. He got married that year to then-22-year-old Shannon Price, though the union was rocky, landing the couple on the syndicated “Divorce Court” show. He was hospitalized in Los Angeles for undisclosed reasons in January, then again in February after suffering a seizure on the set of the TV show “The Insider.”
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