Gary Coleman

For other people named Gary Coleman, see Gary Coleman (disambiguation).
Gary Coleman

Gary Coleman in 2007
Born Gary Wayne Coleman
(1968-02-08)February 8, 1968
Zion, Illinois, United States
Died May 28, 2010(2010-05-28) (aged 42)
Provo, Utah, United States
Cause of death Epidural hematoma
Nationality American
Occupation Actor, voice artist, comedian
Years active 1974–2010
Home town Zion, Illinois, United States
Television Diff'rent Strokes
Spouse(s) Shannon Price
(m. 2007–2008; divorced)
Parent(s) W. G. Coleman
Edmonia Sue Coleman

Gary Wayne Coleman (February 8, 1968 – May 28, 2010) was an American actor, voice artist, and comedian, best known for his role as Arnold Jackson in 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 adviser over misappropriation of his assets, only to declare bankruptcy a decade later.

On May 28, 2010, Coleman died of epidural hematoma at age 42.

Early life

Coleman was born Gary Wayne Coleman[1] in Zion, Illinois, outside Chicago,[2] on February 8, 1968. He was adopted by W. G. Coleman, a fork-lift operator, and Edmonia Sue, a nurse practitioner.[3] 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 8 in (1.42 m),[4] and his face retained a childlike appearance well into adulthood. He underwent two unsuccessful kidney transplants in 1973 and 1984, and required daily dialysis.[5]


In 1974, Coleman's career began when he appeared in a commercial for Harris Bank. His line (after the announcer said, "You should have a Harris banker.") was "You should have a Hubert doll."[6] "Hubert" was a stuffed lion representing the Harris bank logo.[7][8] The same year, he appeared in an episode of Medical Center.[7]

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 1977 pilot for a revival of The Little Rascals as Stymie.[9] VH1 rated Coleman first on a list of "100 Greatest Child Stars" on television.[10]

Diff'rent Strokes

Coleman was cast in the role of Arnold Jackson in Diff'rent Strokes, portraying one of two black brothers from Harlem adopted by a wealthy white widower in Manhattan. The series was broadcast from 1978 to 1986.

He became the most popular fixture of the series, enhanced by his character's catchphrase "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?". At the height of his fame on Diff'rent Strokes, he earned $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.[11] He later successfully sued his parents and his former advisers for misappropriation of his finances and was awarded $1.3 million.[12] According to 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 television films, including On the Right Track and The Kid with the Broken Halo. The latter eventually served as the basis for The Gary Coleman Show in 1982. He also made video game appearances in The Curse of Monkey Island (1997) and Postal 2 (2003). In 2005, Coleman appeared in John Cena's music video for his single "Bad, Bad Man" (from the album You Can't See Me), Coleman played himself as a villain taking Michael Jackson and Madonna hostage. The video was a spoof of 80s culture, focusing on The A-Team.[13][14]

Candidacy for Governor of California

In the 2003 California recall election, Coleman was a candidate for governor. 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. He placed 8th in a field of 135 candidates, receiving 14,242 votes.[15]

Avenue Q

Coleman is parodied in 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.[5] On Broadway, the role was originally portrayed by Natalie Venetia Belcon.[16]

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 their original intent was for 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.[17]

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."[18]

Personal life

Coleman at the 2005 E3 on May 18, 2005

In a 1993 television interview, Coleman said he had twice attempted suicide by overdosing on pills.[19] Around the same time he was living in Denver, Colorado, where he hosted a Sunday night show on local radio station KHIH titled Gary Coleman's Colorado High, in which he played light jazz and new-age music. He gave part of his salary to the Colorado Kidney Foundation.[20]

In 2005, Coleman moved from Los Angeles to Santaquin, a small town about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah, where he lived for the remainder of his life.[21] In early 2007 he met Shannon Price, 22, on the set of the film Church Ball, where she was working as an extra.[22] Price and Coleman married several months later.[23] On May 1 and 2, 2008, they made a well-publicized appearance on the show Divorce Court[24] to air their differences in an attempt to save their marriage. Nevertheless, they divorced in August 2008, citing irreconcilable differences[25] and Coleman was granted an ex parte restraining order against Price to prevent her from living in his home when he was hospitalized after their divorce.[26] According to a court petition later filed by Price, she and Coleman continued to live together in a common law marriage until his death.[27] However, a judge ultimately ruled against Price after hearing evidence that she carried on affairs with other men during the time she claimed to be with Coleman, and moreover "physically abused Coleman in public, led him around by the hand like a child [and] displayed no physical affection toward him in front of anyone."[26]

Financial struggles

In August 1999, Coleman filed for bankruptcy protection.[28] 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."[29]

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.[30] The auction attracted considerable attention, including fake bids up to $400,000. The trousers were eventually bought for $500 by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who hung them from the rafters of his television studio.[31]

In 1989, Coleman sued his adoptive parents and former business advisor for $3.8 million over misappropriation of his trust fund,[32][33] and won a $1,280,000 judgment in 1993.[34]

In 1998, Coleman was charged with assault 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.[35][36]

In 2007, Coleman was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah after a "heated discussion" in public with his wife.[37][38]

In 2008, Coleman was involved in a car 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.[39][40] 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.[41][42][43]

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.[44]

In January 2010, months before his death, he was arrested on an outstanding domestic assault warrant in Santaquin, booked into the Utah County Jail,[45] and released the following day.[46]

Trains and model railroading

Coleman was an avid railfan, model railroader, and supporter of Amtrak. He became interested in trains sometime before the age of 5 during his frequent train trips to Chicago in support of his burgeoning acting career.[47] 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 to be around his hobby.[47][48] Coleman built and maintained miniature railroads in his homes in several states. One of his train layouts appears in the September 1990 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Coleman is photographed on the front cover, with his "Rio Grande" layout. He 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 Coleman's model railroads is being preserved in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[49]

Death and memorial

Very few details of Coleman's medical history have been made public. His short stature (4 feet, 8 inches or 1.42 meters) stemmed from congenital autoimmune kidney disease and its treatment.[50] He underwent at least two kidney transplants early in his life and required frequent dialysis, which he preferred not to discuss. In 2009, Coleman underwent heart surgery, details of which were never made public, but he was known to have developed pneumonia postoperatively.[21] In January 2010, Coleman was hospitalized after a seizure in Los Angeles, and in February he suffered another seizure on the set of The Insider television program.[51]

On May 26, 2010, Coleman was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah, in critical condition[52] after falling down the stairs at his home in Santaquin and hitting his head, possibly after another seizure, and suffering an epidural hematoma.[53] According to a hospital spokesman, Coleman was conscious and lucid the next morning, but his condition subsequently worsened.[10] By mid-afternoon on May 27, he was unconscious and on life support.[54] He died at 12:05 pm MDT (18:05 UTC) on May 28 at the age of 42.[55][56]

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 part of Coleman paid tribute to him from the stage at the performances' conclusions.[57][58] (The Coleman character remained in the show after modifications were made to relevant dialogue.[59])

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]",[60] turned out to be superseded by a later one replacing Mial with Gray,[61] and directing "...that there be no funeral service, wake, or other ceremony memorializing my passing."[62][63][64]

Questions were also raised as to whether Price, who approved discontinuing Coleman's life support, was legally authorized 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!"[65]

The Globe's controversial front-page image of Coleman and Price. The tabloid admitted buying the photo, but did not disclose the seller or price.

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.[66] 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.[67][68]

In June, Coleman's remains were cremated, in accordance with his wishes, after a Utah judge agreed that there was no dispute regarding that issue; but disposition of the ashes was delayed pending a judicial decision on permanent control of the estate.[69] While Coleman's final will, signed in 2005, named Gray as executor and awarded his entire estate to her, Coleman and Price married in 2007. Although 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.[62]

In May 2012 Judge James Taylor ruled that while Price had indeed 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.[70] The disposition of his ashes remains unreported. Price said that were she granted disposition, she would scatter the ashes at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah as a tribute to Coleman's lifelong love of trains.[71]


Year Title Role Notes
1979 The Kid from Left Field Jackie Robinson "J. R." Cooper Television film
1980 Scout's Honor Joey Seymour Television film
1981 On the Right Track Lester First feature film
1982 Kid with the Broken Halo, TheThe Kid with the Broken Halo Andy LeBeau Television film
1982 Jimmy the Kid Jimmy
1983 Kid with the 200 I.Q., TheThe Kid with the 200 I.Q. Nick Newell Television film
1984 Fantastic World of D.C. Collins, TheThe Fantastic World of D.C. Collins D. C. Collins Television film
1985 Playing with Fire David Phillips Television film
1994 Party The Liar Short film
Associate producer
1994 S.F.W. Himself Cameo
1996 Fox Hunt Murray Lipschitz, Jr.
1997 Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's Himself Documentary
1998 Dirty Work Himself Cameo
1998 The Christmas Takeover 1998 Like Father, Like Santa Ignatius Television film
1999 Shafted! Himself Cameo
2000 Flunky, TheThe Flunky Himself
2002 Frank McKlusky, C.I. Himself Cameo
2003 Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star Himself Cameo
2003 Carol Christmas, AA Carol Christmas Christmas Past Television film
2004 Chasing the Edge Himself Cameo
Short film
2004 Save Virgil Himself / The Devil
2005 Christmas Too Many, AA Christmas Too Many Pizza Delivery Guy
2006 Church Ball Charles Higgins
2008 American Carol, AnAn American Carol Bacon Stains Malone
2009 Midgets vs. Mascots Gary Last film appearance


Title Year Notes
Medical Center 1974
The Little Rascals 1977 TV pilots
The Jeffersons 1978 Raymond Jefferson Episode Uncle George Aunt Louise
Good Times 1978 Guest
Diff'rent Strokes 1978–1986 Arnold Jackson
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century 1979 Episode: "The Cosmic Wiz Kid" (cameo appearance in a later episode)
The Facts of Life 1980 Arnold Jackson
The Gary Coleman Show 1982 Voice
Silver Spoons 1983 Arnold Jackson
Simon & Simon 1986 "Like Father, Like Son"
Amazing Stories 1986 Season 1: Episode 10 – "Remote Control Man"[72]
Couch Potatoes 1989 Cameo
227 1990
The Ben Stiller Show 1993 Himself
The Wayans Bros. 1995 Pilot Episode: "Goop, Hair-It-Is" as himself
Married... with Children 1994-1996 Season 8, Episode 16: How Green Was My Apple
Season 10, Episode 27: The Joke's on Al
Martin 1995 Season 3, Episode 20: High Noon as Mad Dog No Good
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 1996 Season 6, Episode 24: I, Done: Part 2
Waynehead 1996-1997 Kevin
The Parent 'Hood 1996 Season 3, Episode 22: Rappin' It Up
The Simpsons 1999, 2000 Season 11, Episode 9: Grift of the Magi
Season 12, Episode 2: A Tale of Two Springfields
The Jamie Foxx Show 2000 Season 5, Episode 9: Cupid
Son of the Beach 2000-2002 Season 1, Episode 12: Attack of the Cocktopuss
Season 3, Episode 11: The Long Hot Johnson
The Hughleys 2001 Season 4, Episode 8: Whatchoo Stalkin' About, Willis?
My Wife and Kids 2001 Season 2, Episode 2: Mom's Away: Part 2
Season 2, Episode 4: Perfect Dad
Baby Bob 2002 Season 1, Episode 5: House of the Rising Son
Star Dates 2003 Season 1, Episode 6: Gary Coleman
The Drew Carey Show 2001 "What's Wrong with this Episode? IV"
The Parkers 2002 Season 4, Episode 8: It's Gary Coleman
A Carol Christmas 2003 Ghost of Christmas Past
BET Comedy Awards 2004 Himself
The 2nd Annual TV Land Awards 2004 Himself
The Surreal Life 2004 Season 2, Episode 2: Mel's Dinner
Drake & Josh 2004 Season 2, Episode 12: The Gary Grill (as Himself)
The 6th Annual TV Land Awards 2008 Himself
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! 2009 "The Apocalypse"
Nitro Circus 2009 Episodes: Hits and Misses
Hollywood Nitro
The Horrible Terrible Misadventures of David Atkins 2010 Season 1, Episode 1: Welcome to Atkins Land
Robot Chicken 2010 Season 5, Episode 9: No Country For Old Dogs (posthumous)

Video games

Coleman at the Downtown Carrier Annex in Los Angeles, California on May 15, 2003

Coleman portrayed a fictional version of himself in Postal 2, providing the voice and motion capture. He also portrayed Kenny Falmouth in The Curse of Monkey Island.

Music videos


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