Photo by Michael Buckelew
PROVO, Utah -- Gary Coleman, the adorable, pint-sized child star of the smash 1970s TV sitcom ''Diff'rent Strokes'' who spent the rest of his life struggling on Hollywood's D-list, died Friday after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 42.
Coleman was taken off life support and died with family and friends at his side, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Janet Frank said.
Best remembered for ''Diff'rent Strokes'' character Arnold Jackson and his ''Whatchu talkin' 'bout?'' catchphrase, Coleman chafed at his permanent association with the show but also tried to capitalize on it through reality shows and other TV appearances. His adult life was marked with legal, financial and health troubles, suicide attempts and even a 2003 run for California governor.
''I want to escape that legacy of Arnold Jackson,'' he told The New York Times during his gubernatorial run. "I'm someone more. It would be nice if the world thought of me as something more.''
Coleman suffered the brain hemorrhage Wednesday at his Santaquin home, 55 miles south of Salt Lake City.
A statement from the family said he was conscious and lucid until midday Thursday, when his condition worsened and he slipped into unconsciousness. Coleman was then placed on life support.
''It's unfortunate. It's a sad day,'' said Todd Bridges, who played Coleman's older brother, Willis, on ''Diff'rent Strokes.''
''Diff'rent Strokes'' debuted on NBC in 1978 and drew most of its laughs from Coleman, then a tiny 10-year-old with sparkling eyes and perfect comic timing.
He played the younger of two black brothers adopted by a wealthy white man. Race and class relations became topics on the show as much as the typical trials of growing up.
''He was the reason we were such a big hit,'' co-star Charlotte Rae, who played the family's housekeeper on the show, said in an e-mail. ''He was the centerpiece and we all surrounded him. He was absolutely enchanting, adorable, funny and filled with joy which he spread around to millions of people all over the world.''
''Diff'rent Strokes'' lasted six seasons on NBC and two on ABC; it lives on thanks to DVDs and YouTube. But its equally enduring legacy became the troubles in adulthood of its former child stars.
In 1989, Bridges was acquitted of attempted murder in the shooting of a drug dealer. The then 24-year-old Bridges testified he became depressed and turned to drugs after ''Diff'rent Strokes'' was canceled.
Dana Plato, who played the boys' white, teenage sister, pleaded guilty in 1991 to a robbery charge. She died in 1999 of an overdose of painkiller and muscle relaxer. The medical examiner's office ruled the death a suicide.
''It's sad that I'm the last kid alive from the show,'' Bridges said.
Coleman's short stature added to his child-star charm but stemmed from a serious health problem, kidney failure. He got his first of at least two transplants at age 5 and required dialysis. Even as an adult, his height reached only 4 feet 8 inches.