Another child actor down
Gary Coleman's short life ends: Different Strokes takes its second victim
Gary Coleman ended up living too short — dying today in a Utah hospital at age 42. The official cause of death is a brain hemorrhage, but Coleman — still best known as the 10-year-old child star who made Different Strokes almost semi-watchable — fought personal demons for years, with the police called to his Utah home 20 times from 2005 to 2010, including at least twice for suicide attempts.
Coleman also plead no contest to punching a fan at a bowling alley in 2008 (the man claimed that the 4-foot-8 Coleman also hit him with his pickup truck).
If you just read the headlines, that's how all of Gary Coleman's adult life seemed to go. He often railed against the burden of being a child actor so closely identified with one role. "I want to escape that legacy of Arnold Jackson," Coleman told the New York Times when he ran for governor of California (that's right) in the infamous 2003 California recall election. "I'm someone more. It would be nice if the world thought of me as something more."
Child actors often have a tough time adjusting to grownup life, but Different Strokes seemsto have presented an even stronger burden than most shows. Coleman is the second child star from the series who died much too soon. Dana Plato — who played the teenage daughter in the white family that adopts Coleman in the show — committed suicide in 1999 at age 34. Even more tragically, Plato's son Tyler Lambert — who was 14 at the time of his mom's suicide — killed himself earlier this month.
Todd Bridges — who played Coleman's older brother on the show spurring the signature Coleman catchphrase, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" — was arrested and tried for attempted murder in the late 1980s (he was acquitted at trial). Bridges later admitted to having been a drug dealer in his post Different Strokes days.
It's enough to make one wonder about the Different Strokes environment and appreciate child actors, like Alyssa Milano, who made a relatively unscathed transition to adulthood.
I was a little young to be a Different Strokes fan, but I have an older brother who loved Coleman and would often get upset when talk show hosts like Jim Rome mocked the pint-sized star's later-life struggles. A certain generation of kids who grew up in the 1970s were very protective of Coleman to the end.