Child Actor Gary Coleman Dies Gary Coleman, the child star of the 1970's sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," died Friday after suffering an intercranial hemorrhage. He was 42.
NPR logo

Child Actor Gary Coleman Dies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Child Actor Gary Coleman Dies

Child Actor Gary Coleman Dies

Child Actor Gary Coleman Dies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Gary Coleman, the child star of the 1970's sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," died Friday after suffering an intercranial hemorrhage. He was 42.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Former child star Gary Coleman has died in a Utah hospital, following a brain hemorrhage. He was 42. Coleman is best known for playing the fast-talking Arnold on the hit TV series "Diff'rent Strokes."

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: With his tiny body and puckish sense of humor, young Gary Wayne Coleman hit the big time in 1978, when he and costar Todd Bridges appeared on "Diff'rent Strokes." They played orphaned brothers from Harlem who were adopted by their mother's wealthy, widowed employer.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Diff'rent Strokes")

Mr. GARY COLEMAN (Actor): (as Arnold Jackson) Did you see me warming up out there?

CONRAD BAIN (As Mr. Drummond): I sure did, son. Hey, you really seem to be up for this game.

BATES: For a country traumatized by the racially stratified '60s, the happy, multiracial family was welcome balm, and "Diff'rent Strokes" became a hit for several years. Coleman was its most popular character. This line appeared at least once in every show.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Diff'rent Strokes")

Mr. COLEMAN: (As Arnold Jackson) What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BATES: Coleman's signature size was a legacy of a serious illness. By the time he was 5, he'd had three surgeries for a congenital kidney defect. The operations and medicines stunted his growth.

Because his short height made him looked younger than his 10 years, he was cast as 5-year-old Arnold Jackson in 1978 and became a celebrity, but Coleman was more than ready for the series to end in 1986.

Todd Bridges told talk show host Wendy Williams: Coleman was finished with every aspect of the show.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Wendy Williams Show")

Ms. WENDY WILLIAMS (Talk Show Host, "The Wendy Williams Show"): Gary Coleman today, everybody, we've been seeing it on...

Mr. TODD BRIDGES (Actor): Oh, yeah.

Ms. WILLIAMS: all the tabloids and on TV. He's a bit of a mess.

Mr. BRIDGES: Yeah.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Are you close with him?

Mr. BRIDGES: No, he won't talk to me at all right now. He's very - like -anything about "Diff'rent Strokes," he wants nothing to do with it.

BATES: The mess Williams referred to was a string of legal problems and public embarrassments for Coleman. He sued his parents and manager in 1989 for misappropriating several hundred-thousand dollars of his "Diff'rent Strokes" earnings.

In 1999, he declared bankruptcy. He became a security guard to make ends meet and ended up in court after punching a bus driver who he says was harassing him for an autograph. He'd also been charged in a domestic violence incident last year. Coleman's financial problems were well enough known that he was tapped to shill for a loan company.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Mr. COLEMAN: I love you, CashCall. Cash wired right into my account. No one would lend me any money.

BATES: In 2003, he became one of 135 Californians seeking to replace Governor Gray Davis in a recall election. Here, candidate Coleman tells NPR's Mandalit Del Barco how he'd deal with the state's budget deficit if elected.

(Soundbite of archived NPR broadcast)

Mr. COLEMAN: I would be absolutely ruthless. You know, I would find every person that, you know, if their job is just to answer the phone for somebody, that person would have to go. The first salary I want to cut is my own.

BATES: Coleman didn't win, but he did go on to do occasional film and TV work. Poor health continued to plague him, though. He'd had two kidney transplants in 10 years and underwent dialysis regularly, and had heart surgery last year.

On Wednesday, he fell and hit his head at home and was rushed to a local hospital. By Thursday, he'd been placed on life support.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Child Star, '70s Icon Gary Coleman Dies At 42

Gary Coleman during a February 2008 appearance on the NBC Today program. Richard Drew/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Richard Drew/AP

Former child TV star Gary Coleman died Friday afternoon at a Utah hospital, shortly after lapsing into a coma following a hemorrhage that caused bleeding inside his skull.

Coleman, who came to national attention as the centerpiece of the 1970s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, suffered the hemorrhage Wednesday at his home in Santaquin, Utah, 55 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Utah Valley Regional Medical Center released a statement on behalf of Coleman's family that said Coleman was conscious and lucid until midday Thursday, when his condition worsened and he slipped into unconsciousness. Coleman was then placed on life support.

Hospital spokeswoman Janet Frank said Coleman was hospitalized because of "an accident" at the home, but she said she had no details on what the accident was.

Coleman's family, in a statement read by his brother-in-law, Shawn Price, said "information surrounding his passing will be released shortly."

"We are very grateful for all the wonderful support everyone has been extending to Gary's family," Price said, reading from a statement he attributed to his sister, Shannon Price. "Thousands of e-mails have poured into the hospital. This has been so comforting to the family to know how beloved he still is."

Coleman endured continuing ill health from a kidney disease he suffered as a child. He had at least two kidney transplants and ongoing dialysis.

On Wednesday, an ambulance was called to Coleman's home. He was initially transported to Mountain View Hospital in Payson, the nearest medical facility, said Dennis Howard, Santaquin's director of public safety.

The family statement said Coleman was later moved to the regional medical center in Provo for additional tests and treatment.

The hospital did not give details on Coleman's condition beyond calling it an intracranial hemorrhage, which is bleeding inside the head.

Coleman had continued to work in TV, commercials and film, but was most closely associated with his long run as the character Arnold Jackson on Diff'rent Strokes, which aired from 1978 to 1986. Arnold and his older brother, Willis — played by Todd Bridges — were inner-city black children adopted by a rich white man who was also the single father of a teenage daughter.

Improbable as the premise might have seemed, the show managed to win an audience, largely on the strength of Coleman's on-screen magnetism.

"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."

Fixing a fierce, skeptical gaze on his older brother, Coleman's Arnold would frequently deliver the signature line: "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

Sadly, Coleman, Bridges and co-star Dana Plato all suffered significant off-screen problems. Bridges struggled with a cocaine addiction and ran afoul of the law, though he has rebounded to continue in TV roles. Plato died of a 1999 prescription drug overdose that was ruled a suicide.

Beyond his health issues, Coleman had a string of financial and legal problems, which his family acknowledged in its statement, citing "difficulties ... with his personal and public life."

"At times it may not have been apparent, but he always had fond memories of being an entertainer and appreciates his fans for all their support over the years," the family said.

Coleman — who also ran for governor of California as one of 135 candidates in the state's bizarre recall election — had moved to Utah in 2005 to star in the movie Church Ball. It was a comedy based on basketball leagues formed by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He met his wife, Shannon Price, on the movie set and married her in 2007.

Last fall, Coleman had heart surgery complicated by pneumonia, said his Utah attorney Randy Kester.

In February, Coleman also suffered a seizure on the set of The Insider.

Includes reporting from NPR's Howard Berkes and The Associated Press.