Diff'rent Strokes Star Gary Coleman Dies Amid Financial Miseries

Gary Coleman, actor, died at 42
Gary Coleman, actor, died at 42

Gary Coleman died Friday after suffering an intercranial hemorrhage. He was 42.

The actor, famous for playing Arnold Jackson on the popular 1980s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, was a patient at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, in Provo, Utah, where he was admitted after allegedly falling and hitting his head. While the circumstances surrounding his injury are unclear, he was hospitalized twice this year for seizures.

Early Successes

Coleman had an early string of successes as a child actor. In addition to his eight-year run on Diff'rent Strokes, he starred in several made-for-TV movies, including The Kid From Left Field, The Kid With the 200 IQ, and The Kid with the Broken Halo, which was spun off into a 1982 animated series The Gary Coleman Show. However, when Diff'rent Strokes went off the air in 1986, Coleman largely dropped off the pop-culture radar, disappearing from television until 1990.

In 1989, Coleman sued his parents and manager for misappropriation of the income from his television career; a Superior Court judge ultimately awarded him $1.3 million in damages. The money didn't last, and in 1999, Coleman filed for bankruptcy. At the time, he was only drawing an estimated $1,000 per year in royalties from Diff'rent Strokes. In fact, the most valuable thing in his possession was a $3,000 set of model trains, and the total value of his assets and money owed to him was an estimated $19,850. He was more than $72,000 in debt.

Tumultuous Personal Life

Coleman's personal life was also tumultuous. In 2006, he met actress Shannon Price on the set of Church Ball, a low-budget film about a Mormon basketball team. The following August, the pair secretly wed in a private ceremony in Nevada's Valley of Fire. Yet, the child star's wedded bliss was sadly short-lived: Coleman and Price experienced domestic problems before their marriage, and within a year of their wedding, the pair appeared on an episode of Divorce Court, a television program. In 2009, Price was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and, earlier this year, Coleman followed suit with his own domestic violence arrest.

In fact, with the notable exception of his candidacy in California's 2003 recall election for governor, most of Coleman's news appearances over the past decade were related to legal problems. At various times, he was cited for disorderly conduct, reckless driving and assault. In 2008, the Utah Valley Daily Herald estimated that the police had assisted or intervened with the former actor 21 times since he moved to the state in 2005. According to Coleman, he moved to Utah in search of privacy and relief from the paparazzi.

'Diff'rent Strokes Curse'

Coleman's death is the latest episode in the Diff'rent Strokes curse. His fellow child costars Todd Bridges and Dana Plato also had difficulties making the transition from child stardom to adult careers. Plato went on to face legal problems, drug addiction and a slide into soft-core pornography. In 1999, she committed suicide at the age of 34.

Bridges' post-Diff'rent Strokes career was also tumultuous, and he also became addicted to drugs, primarily cocaine. By the late 1990s, however, he had put most of his problems behind him. He married Dori Bridges and, in 1998, fathered a son, Spencir Todd Bridges. From 2007 to 2009, he had a recurring role on Everybody Hates Chris and currently appears on The Smoking Gun. He also headlines for a band, aptly named "Todd Bridges and the Whatchu Talkin' 'Bout Willis Experience."