Jackson pays tribute to child actor Coleman

Singer Janet Jackson paid tribute today to former child star Gary Coleman, the pint-sized child star of 1970s TV sitcom 'Diff’rent Strokes', who died following a brain haemorrhage.

Singer Janet Jackson paid tribute today to former child star Gary Coleman, the pint-sized child star of 1970s TV sitcom 'Diff’rent Strokes', who died following a brain haemorrhage.

Coleman, 42, who spent the rest of his life struggling on Hollywood’s D-list, died yesterday with family and friends at his side after he was taken off a life support machine.

Jackson, who appeared on several episodes of 'Diff’rent Strokes', said on Twitter: “I want to remember him as the fun, playful, adorable and affectionate man he was.

“He has left a lasting legacy. I know he is finally at peace.”

Coleman suffered the brain haemorrhage at his Utah home on Wednesday, Utah Valley Regional Medical Centre spokeswoman Janet Frank said. Ms Frank said Coleman was admitted to hospital because of an accident at the home, but had no further details.

Coleman’s family, in a statement read by his brother-in-law Shawn Price, said information would be released shortly about his death.

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 capitalise on it through reality shows and other TV appearances.

But 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 governorship run. “I’m someone more. It would be nice if the world thought of me as something more.”

A statement from the family said he was conscious and lucid until midday on Thursday, when his condition worsened and he slipped into unconsciousness.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s a sad day,” said Todd Bridges, who played Coleman’s older brother Willis on 'Diff’rent Strokes'.

“It’s sad that I’m the last kid alive from the show.”

'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 African-American 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.

“He was the centrepiece 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 and 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, then 24, was acquitted of attempted murder in the shooting of a drug dealer. He said he became depressed and turned to drugs after 'Diff’rent Strokes' was cancelled.

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. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Coleman was born in Zion, Illinois, near Chicago. His short stature added to his child-star charm but stemmed from a serious health problem – kidney failure. He had his first of at least two transplants at five and required dialysis.

Even as an adult, his height reached only 4ft 8ins.

After the show was cancelled, Coleman never regained more than a shadow of his old popularity. At one point he worked as a security guard.

Last year he had heart surgery complicated by pneumonia and in February he suffered a seizure on the set of 'The Insider'.

Legal disputes also dogged him. In 1989, when Coleman was 21, his mother Sue filed a court request trying to gain control of her son’s fortune, saying he was incapable of handling his affairs.

He said the move “obviously stems from her frustration at not being able to control my life”.

In a 1993 television interview, he said he had twice tried to kill himself by overdosing on pills.

Some of his disputes involved his wife Shannon Price, whom he met on the set of the 2006 comedy 'Church Ball' and married in 2007.

In February he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour criminal mischief charge related to an April 2009 domestic violence incident at his home.

Coleman remained estranged from his parents, who said they learned about his admission to hospital and death from news reports.

Mrs Coleman said she wanted to reconcile and had been patiently waiting for her son to be ready.

“One of the things that I had prayed for was that nothing like this would happen before we could sit with Gary and Shannon and say, ’We’re here and we love you’,” she said. “We just didn’t want to push him.”

She would not discuss the cause of the estrangement.

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up