Gary Coleman, who was as famous for his downward slide from childhood fame as he was for his role on Diff'rent Strokes, died in a Utah hospital today after suffering an intra-cranial hemorrhage. He was 42.
Coleman first gained fame in 1978 playing one of two black children adopted by a wealthy white man on the hit sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. He was just 10 years old when his catchphrase, "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" entered the pop culture lexicon and a series of movie appearances and even his own cartoon soon followed. But an easy life it wasn't. Although Coleman became famous at a young age, a congenital kidney disease stunted his development, so continued to look like a young boy, even as he reached maturity.
Once his fame subsided, Coleman's life was marked by a series of messy, public struggles. In 1989, three years after his show went off the air, he sued his parents and managers for misappropriating his $4 million trust fund. He won a little more than $1 million four years later, but by 1999 he'd filed for bankruptcy and was forced to make ends meet by working as a security guard at a mall in California. After that, there were a number of assault charges and altercations with his wife, Shannon Price, who he appeared on Divorce Court with in 2008, but who he was still married to at the time of his death.
Instead of remembering Coleman as a cautionary tale about child stars gone bad, let's have a look at some of the reasons America fell in love with him in the first place.