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Gary Coleman, 1968-2010

Filed under: In Memoriam   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Pollux writes:

“Why should I be afraid of the camera?” Gary Coleman asked, in an April 1979 interview in Ebony Jr. magazine (Vol. 6, No. 10). “If it wore a black cape and had fangs, I’d be scared of it. But since it doesn’t, then why be afraid? There’s really nothing to this.” Coleman was eleven at the time. Diff’rent Strokes, of which Coleman was the life and soul, had already been on the air for four months.

By the time Coleman celebrated his 21st birthday, the actor had attempted to take control of his life, and his finances, by suing his parents and former manager for mismanaging his $3.8 million trust fund. His life had become a mixture of misfortune and success. Celebrities attended the actor’s 21st birthday. The mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, declared February 8 to be “Gary Coleman Day.” Coleman cut into an enormous birthday cake shaped like a train (the actor was a model train aficionado).

By 1999, Coleman had filed for bankruptcy and his life was a downward spiral of legal, domestic, and police troubles. Coleman’s calamities seemed to engender more derision and Schadenfreude than understanding.

He had become a punch-line and a pop culture trivia question: Did you know Coleman had worked as a security guard on a movie set? His misfortunes did not always bring out the best in people, or in the media.

Coleman’s life was a reverse image of the American dream. His riches-to-rags story became a subject for parody. There was a character named Gary Coleman in the musical Avenue Q. The song “It Sucks to Be Me” captured the tragedy of his life: “I’m Gary Coleman / From TV’s Diff’rent Strokes / I made a lotta money / That got stolen / By my folks! / Now I’m broke and / I’m the butt / Of everyone’s jokes.”

I stood next to Gary Coleman once while in line at a Pavilions supermarket in Culver City. Often, when an actor ages, he or she loses whatever spark that made the actor an object of affection or admiration.

But as Coleman chatted with the checkout girl, one could still see the same boy who, back in 1979, was completely unafraid of the camera. Despite his misfortunes, the bubbling confidence was still there, and to which we should pay tribute.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree