R.I.P. Gary Coleman: Forever the reluctant, angry child star
News that 42-year-old grown up child star Gary Coleman died today after suffering an intercranial hemmorhage at his home in Utah seemed the final, horrifying blow in a life that was, in recent years, filled with pain.
At times, it seemed Coleman must have used up all the good luck in his life on the explosion of fame which made him a star: playing precocious adopted kid Arnold Jackson on the NBC sitcom Diff'rent Strokes from 1978 to 1986.
The part may have made him a household name, complete with appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and his face on lunchboxes. But it also seemed to bring him plenty of pain, including a 1989 lawsuit against his parents and manager for misappropriating $3.8-million from his trust fund earned during his time on the show.
Coleman seemed to struggle over the years with anger issues connected to his fame -- from a 1998 assault charge after punching a woman who initially sought his autograph, to a reckless driving charge which came from a car accident following an argument he had with a man who took his photograph. Coleman was also arrested and cited for incidents tied to heated arguments with his wife (they even appeared on an episode of Divorce Court together).
It couldn't have helped that he also struggled with health problems, including a kidney disease which limited his growth early in life -- but made playing precocious kids on TV and in movies easier -- requiring two kidney transplants and constant dialysis.
Coleman seemed caught in a vortex of awful dynamics. As an adult actor, he had limited opportunities but couldn't work "regular" jobs (he was employed as a security guard when the argument with the autograph seeker broke out) because of his fame. That left gigs as a celebrity oddity, which he also seemed to resist.
In the end, Coleman couldn't avoid the same forces which twisted the lives of costars Dana Plato and Todd Bridges, turning all three into cautionary tales about the corrosive impact of fame for child actors with families unprepared to handle it.Here's the many faces of Coleman: