My phone buzzed off the hook one night in the late 1970s. Everyone was asking the same question: “Did you see that little kid who went toe to toe with George Jefferson tonight?”
The little kid was Gary Coleman. After a very successful stint starring in commercials, he made his foray into sitcoms as a guest star on an episode of “The Jeffersons.” The next season, he made his debut as Arnold on “Diff’rent Strokes.”
The child star’s later career was marred by medical and legal problems. He died on May 28 after suffering an intracranial hemorrhage. He was 42. Utah Valley Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Janet Frank says life support was terminated and Gary died at 12:05 p.m. MT.
Coleman, with his sparkling eyes and perfect comedic timing, became a star after “Diff’rent Strokes” debuted in 1978. He played the younger brother in a pair of African-American siblings adopted by a wealthy white man. His popularity faded when the show ended after six seasons on NBC and two on ABC. Todd Bridges, who played Gary’s older brother, Willis, on the series, says the show may have been canceled due to Coleman’s parents’ interference with production.
Gary’s memorable line, “What you talking ’bout Willis?,” was directed at Todd’s character.
While recently promoting his autobiography, Bridges has repeatedly told interviewers that the Colemans didn’t allow the rest of the cast to speak to their son and made constant demands upon the producers.
Gary’s brother-in-law says the actor injured his head in a fall on May 26.
Gary suffered from ongoing health problems from the kidney disease that stunted his growth and has had a host of legal problems in recent years.
Estranged from his parents most of his adult life, Gary was married to Shannon Price, whom he also had a very tumultuous relationship with. In the last 10 years, the only way Sue and Willie Coleman kept up with their estranged son’s life was through headlines: his marriage, his legal problems and finally his hospitalization and removal from life support on Friday.
Sue Coleman told People magazine: “We would’ve loved to have been there by his side at the hospital, to let him know we love him before he passed away. This is a shock to us. We loved Gary very much.”
Although Gary’s widow, Shannon, wants to keep details of the cause of death private, the official cause of death is still under investigation.
Gary’s mom also told People that Shannon may not have known that she and Gary’s dad existed. She feels that Gary may have told her he didn’t have any family.
While Gary sued his parents and his business manager in 1989 for allegedly stealing his multimillion-dollar fortune, which was estimated to be worth $18 million, the Colemans always denied it. A friend of his allegedly stole what was left of Gary’s settlement in the 1990s. Sue says their address and phone number haven’t changed for more than 20 years. He could have gotten in touch with them anytime he wanted to.