|Full Name||Gary Wayne Coleman|
|Birthday||February 8, 1968|
|Death Date||May 28, 2010|
Gary Wayne Coleman was an actor, comedian and ranked first on VH1's "100 Greatest Kid Stars" list. He rose to fame as a child star on the sitcom Diff‘rent Strokes, becoming a pop culture icon with his catchphrase "What‘chu talkin‘ ‘bout Willis?". However, Coleman‘s adult life was filled with legal issues and financial troubles until his death in 2010 at age 42.
Born on February 8, 1968 in Zion, Illinois, Coleman was adopted as an infant by W.G. Coleman, a pharmaceutical salesman, and Edmonia Sue, a nurse practitioner. As a young child, Coleman suffered from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that halted his growth. By age 5, Coleman was undergoing dialysis treatments and had to receive several kidney transplants throughout his life.
Despite health challenges, Coleman began his acting career early. In 1977, at age 9, he appeared in a local Chicago bank commercial which kickstarted his career. For the next few years, Coleman landed small guest roles on shows like Good Times and The Jeffersons.
Rise to Stardom on Diff‘rent Strokes
In 1978, a 10-year-old Coleman auditioned for the role of Arnold Jackson, the adopted son of wealthy widower Phillip Drummond, in a new NBC sitcom called Diff‘rent Strokes. The producers were won over by Coleman‘s precocious comedic skills and he was cast alongside fellow child actor Todd Bridges.
Diff‘rent Strokes was an immediate hit and Coleman became a pop culture phenomenon. His character Arnold was known for being outspoken and cheeky, spouting catchphrases like "What‘chu talkin‘ ‘bout Willis?" that became etched in the cultural lexicon.
At the peak of his fame, Coleman earned over $100,000 per episode, making him one of the highest paid child actors in television history. This early fortune, however, would soon slip through his fingers.
Legal Troubles and Bankruptcy
After Diff‘rent Strokes ended in 1986, Coleman found it difficult to transition into more mature acting roles. In 1989, he sued his adoptive parents and business advisor for misuse of his $3.8 million trust fund. Though he won a $1.3 million settlement in 1993, Coleman declared bankruptcy six years later after years of financial mismanagement.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Coleman continued to have run-ins with the law. He was arrested multiple times for disorderly conduct and assault, including punching an autograph seeker in 2001. Coleman also suffered from health issues related to his kidney disease.
Later Career and Death
In 2003, Coleman announced a longshot campaign to run for governor of California but dropped out before the election due to low support. He made a few appearances in films like Midgets vs. Mascots (2009) but struggled to revive his acting career.
On May 26, 2010, Coleman suffered an intracranial hemorrhage after a fall at his home in Utah. He died two days later at age 42. Diff‘rent Strokes co-star Todd Bridges delivered the eulogy at Coleman‘s funeral on June 12, 2010.
Legacy as a Child Star Pioneer
Gary Coleman‘s story is one of early meteoric fame and later personal troubles, but his cultural impact as a TV star remains. With his role as Arnold on Diff‘rent Strokes, Coleman became a comedic genius and pioneer as the first African-American child sitcom star.
For a generation of viewers, Coleman was a beloved figure who brought laughter into their homes each week. His catchphrases still live on in popular culture today. Though a cautionary tale on the perils of childhood stardom, Coleman‘s rise to fame as a young black actor broke barriers in 1970s television and paved the way for future talents.