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“What you talkin’ bout, Willis?”

Dig A Hole: Gary Coleman

by Scott Marks
from, 5/28/10

I will be killing myself tonight, from grief. I want to be a footnote to Gary Coleman’s life and art, his tiny greatness. Let us hope he gets a better sendoff than some of the other African-American legends of the 20thCentury like John Bubbles who went out with a “pop” and Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones who simply melted. What caused the minikin mirth maker’s untimely demise? It was that Obama oil spill that killed him, he had taken in two of the pelicans to wash off in his little bathtub, and he was infected when the oil mixed with his tears.

Gary Wayne Coleman was born in Zion, Illinois, a peaceful little community not far from the Wisconsin border best known for its KKK rallies. Coleman, who was born with a congenital kidney disease, was adopted by EdmoniaSue, a nurse practitioner, and W.G. Coleman, a fork-lift operator. Before the tiny dynamo hooked up with Norman Lear and “Diff’rent Strokes,” he began his acting career as a child spokesperson in Chicago TV commercials. Wanting to appeal to an upscale African American clientele, a local department store, I think it was Courtesy Home Furnishing, hired nine-year-old Gary and the legendary character actress Lillian Randolph (“It’s a Wonderful Life, “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” the voice of “Mammy Two-Shoes” in the Tom and Jerry Cartoons) to appear in the 60 second spots. Commercial high point: Lillian asking that “surburbs” call collect. (I still remember the phone number: 252-1155.)

Old Miss Lillian read her lines while parked in a chair while Coleman was animated, energetic, absolutely adorable and in addition, the camera loved him. So did the public.

Coleman was soon seen cuddling plush Hubert the Lion dolls and telling folks to stash their savings at the Harris Bank. The kid had more screen presence than most actors 4 times his age. He was remarkably at ease in front of a camera and a natural when it came to delivering his lines. The commercials were a smash and before turning ten Gary was well on his way to becoming a household name.

He was discovered by one of producer Norman Lear’s talent scouts. Lear signed him for a part in a TV revival of “The Little Rascals,” which never got produced. (Gary was to assume the role of “Stymie.”) In 1978 Lear gave Gary a shot on an episode of “The Jeffersons” and later that year he appeared on “Good Times.”

Coleman eventually signed with NBC, a network determined to make a star (and bundles of cash) out of the teensy thespian. In 1978 Coleman skyrocketed to fame as Arnold Jackson in the cursed sitcom ”Diff’rent Strokes.” In order to milk the cow for everything it was worth, Gary made guest appearances on numerous NBC shows including “Buck Rogers,” “The Facts of Life” and “Silver Spoons.” There was even an animated spin-off, “The Gary Coleman Show.”

To say that Gary Coleman peaked at an early age is an understatement. His kidney disease stunted his growth (he never grew past 4’ 8”) and left him with a childlike appearance. His baby face and peppy demeanor opened many a door for Coleman up until his late teens when quickly became yesterday’s news. His personal life wasn’t much better. The actor underwent two kidney transplants, one in 1973 and one in 1984, and required daily dialysis treatment. At the peak of his “Diff’rent Strokes” popularity Coleman was raking in between $70,000 and $100,000 per episode, a total of $18 million in earnings! Coleman’s parents established a trust fund for his money and listed themselves as paid employees of Coleman’s production company. He successfully sued his parents over misappropriation of his trust fund.

One-shot television guest appearances and direct to video productions lessened throughout the 80s and 90s and the new millennium brought nothing but disaster. With video cameras more conspicuous than ever before, Coleman transformed into a raging runt before our very eyes. He filed for bankruptcy in 1999 blaming his financial problems on mismanagement of his trust.

In November 2000 Coleman went to court over a 1998 scuffle that involved an autograph seeker while he was working as a shopping mall security guard. He plead not guilty and claimed he felt threatened by her insistence and punched her in the head. Coleman was handed a suspended sentence and forced to fork over $1665 for medical bills. There was even a failed run for political office when Coleman ran for Governor of California in 2003.

Things began looking up for Coleman when he met Shannon Price, 22, on the set of the 2006 comedy “Church Ball.” After a five month courtship the two were secretly married on August 28, 2007. In less than a year Coleman was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct by a Provo, Utah, police officer after he was seen having a “heated discussion” with his wife. The newlyweds appeared on a May 2008 taping of “Divorce Court” to pick up a paycheck for airing their dirty laundry. On July 3, 2009, Coleman and his wife were involved in another domestic dispute, this time it was Coleman’s wife who was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. Both parties were cited for disorderly conduct and let go.
Coleman was involved in a tussle with a fan trying to get a photograph in a Payson, Utah bowling alley parking lot on September 6, 2008. The angry Coleman allegedly backed his truck into hit 24-year-old “photog’ Colt Rushton who was later treated and released with minor injuries. Coleman pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct and reckless driving and was ordered to pay a $100 fine. Earlier this year Coleman was once again arrested on a domestic violence assault warrant in Santaquin, Utah where he spent the night in jail.

In a moment that secured a firm spot in the annals of douchechills history, GC got into it with Lisa Bloom while taping a segment for “The Insider.” The lawyer turned shrill tabloid-TV guest viper lunged at Coleman for accusations that he beat his wife. Bobble head dolls are capable of more meaningful eye contact than Coleman whose eyes are darting around the room faster than the lead in a high school production of “The Miracle Worker.”

Coleman was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center late this week after falling and hitting his head and suffering an epidural hematoma at his home in Santaquin, Utah. He was announced to be in critical condition. According to a hospital spokesman, Coleman was ‘conscious and lucid’ on the morning of Thursday May 27, but his condition subsequently worsened. By mid-afternoon on May 27, 2010, Coleman was unconscious and on life support. Gary Coleman was 42.

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