“When ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ got cancelled, I was enormously thrilled and was very much looking forward to starting the rest of my life.” Gary Coleman
American actor Gary Coleman received a career breakthrough at age 10 when he was cast in the role of lovable Arnold Jackson in the popular and long-running television sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” which ran from 1978 to 1986. Gary won three Young Artist Awards for his performance. Since then, the child star has struggled to redefine his life and career. As with costars Dana Plato and Todd Bridges, Coleman fell down into a life of career patchiness and apparently non-stop dilemma once “Diff’rent Strokes” came to an end. Although he never surrendered to drugs like Plato and Bridges, he nevertheless went through the aftermath of being an ex-child celebrity and twice attempted suicide. But through it all, the small actor managed to pull himself up by the bootstraps and re-establish some self-esteem to his life. In 2003, Coleman even became one of the candidates who ran for “Governor of California.” He lost out to action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Coleman, who is sometimes confused with Emmanuel Lewis, star of the 1980s sitcom “Webster,” is also memorable for playing roles in such TV films as The Kid from Left Field (1979), The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982) and The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983). The latter project brought the actor a forth Young Artist award. His film credits include On the Right Track (1981), The Flunky (2000) and Church Ball (2006).
Off camera, VH-1 named Coleman No. 1 on its list of “100 Greatest Child Stars” in June 2005. The same year, he also was ranked No. 10 in E’s list of “Cutest Child Stars all Grown-up.” In 1993, he opened a video game entertainment center called “The Gary Coleman Game Parlor” in Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey, California. However, the GCGP, whose motto was “Our games are easier, so you can play longer,” went out of business a year later. The Zion, Illinois, native has lived in Utah since 2005.
Childhood and Family:
In Zion, Illinois, a small city on the shores of Lake Michigan, 40 miles south of Chicago, Gary Wayne Coleman was born on February 8, 1968. He was adopted by W.G. Coleman, who worked for a pharmaceutical company, and Edmonia Sue, a former nurse. Before reaching the age of 5, Gary underwent operations for nephritis, a congenital kidney defect. As a result of his health condition, Gary would never grow taller than 4’ 8.” His small stature proved to be a professional benefit when he started appearing in Chicago-area TV commercials, because at nine years old, he could pass for five.
Gary Coleman earned the nickname Arnold, from his coveted role on the 1978 television series “Diff’rent Strokes.”
The Kid with the 200 I.Q
At age 10, Gary Coleman auditioned for a proposed television revival of “The Little Rascals.” Although the project fell through, he successfully impressed ABC chief executive Fred Silverman, who soon cast him as the adorable Arnold Jackson in the sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” which was transferred to NBC along with Silverman in the fall of 1978. With his chubby cheeks and skills to mope on cue, the series became an instant hit and ran for six seasons. As for Coleman, he won three Young Artist awards in the categories of Outstanding Contribution to Youth Through Entertainment, Best Young Comedian and Best Young Actor in a Comedy Series.
During a long-running tenure on “Diff’rent Strokes,” Coleman capitalized on his sugary image with numerous TV films, three of which also starred notable actor Robert Guillaume. He first teamed up with Guillaume for the 1979 The Kid from Left Field, a comedy remake of a movie starring Dan Dailey and Anne Bancroft. There, the child star portrayed Jackie Robinson ‘J.R.’ Cooper, the son of an ex-baseball player-turned-refreshments vendor who guides the San Diego Padres from worst in the league to the World Series. The two worked together again in the comedy The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982) and The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983), a sentimental melodrama about an intelligent child who discovers that a bulky IQ cannot make up for a lack of self-reliance or maturity. He nabbed a Young Artist for Best Young Actor in a Movie Made for Television for his role. The three TV movies helped cement the wholesome, chipmunk-cheeked kiddie image that would trouble Coleman for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, he also starred in the theatrical features On the Right Track (1981) and Jimmy the Kid (1982), as well as providing his own voice for the animated TV series “The Gary Coleman Show” (1982).
After “Diff’rent Stokes” came to an end in 1986, Coleman’s career declined sharply. The aging performer was no longer a lovable child and found difficulty being cast because of his size. He maintained his presence in the business by taking on guest spots in shows like “227” (1990), “Married... with Children” (1994), “Martin” (1995) and “Unhappily Ever After” (1995). He also appeared in the movies Dirty Work (1998) and Shafted (1999), and in the made-for-TV film Like Father, Like Santa (1998). However, it was Coleman’s personal life that kept him in the limelight. In 1993, he won a $1.28 million court judgment against his adoptive parents and former manager, who took most of the money he made from “Diff’rent Stokes.” Five years later, Coleman, who at the time was a security guard, got into trouble with the law after punching a female autograph seeker while he was shopping for a bulletproof vest for his security job. The charge of assault and battery was reduced to disturbing the peace. In 1999, in a federal court in Los Angeles, he filed for bankruptcy, claiming he was $72,000 in debt. Rumors stated that he had attempted suicide twice by swallowing sleeping pills.
Entering the new millennium, Coleman went on to make guest appearances in series like “Electric Playground” (2000), “The Jamie Foxx Show” (2000), “The Drew Carey Show” (2001), “The Rerun Show” (2002) and “Son of the Beach” (200-2002). He acted in the comedy film The Flunky (2000) and had a small role in the Tori Spelling television film vehicle A Carol Christmas (2003). 2003 also saw Coleman enter the California recall election. Although Hollywood heavyweight Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to win, Coleman completed with an adequate eighth place among 135 candidates with 14,122 votes. Shortly thereafter, he landed a new job as the political analyst for the fledgling Hollywood-based All Comedy Radio network.
In 2006, Coleman returned to the cinematic industry with the sport/comedy film Church Ball, directed by Kurt Hale. Among his costars in the film were Fred Willard, Andrew Wilson, Clint Howard, Amy Stewart and Larry Bagby.