Gary Coleman, the former child star who was a '70s TV icon but spent the last 10 years battling for bit parts, respect and mostly his health, died Friday after suffering from a brain hemorrhage. He was 42.
Utah Valley Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Janet Frank said life support was terminated and Coleman died at 12:05 p.m. MST. He had the hemorrhage Wednesday at his Santaquin home, 55 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Coleman, who had a kidney transplant even before joining the show that made him famous, "Diff'rent Strokes," had kidney disease much of his life. A statement from the family said he was conscious and lucid until midday Thursday, when his condition worsened and he slipped into unconsciousness. Coleman was then placed on life support.
When barely 10, Coleman was handpicked by the new president of NBC, Fred Silverman, to star in the first show he scheduled for the network, and a star was instantly born.
Silverman didn't last at NBC, but Coleman certainly did - as Arnold Jackson, the cute, impish kid with the Don Rickles comeback who scored pretty much all the laughs in "Strokes."
The show - about a couple of black kids adopted by a tony Park Avenue patriarch - lasted eight years on NBC and ABC. Coleman's career, for the most part, did not flourish afterward and at one point he worked as a security guard.
Misfortune befell other "Strokes" stars, notably Dana Plato, who played his white teen sister, Kimberly, on the show, and Todd Bridges, his older brother Willis. Plato later committed suicide, while Bridges would be tried and acquitted for attempted murder. (In a statement Friday, Bridges said, "It's unfortunate. It's a sad day. It's sad that I'm the last kid alive from the show."
"Strokes" was created by then-hot production company, Tandem, founded by Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear, and was part of an explosively popular new sub-genre: '70s sitcoms with black leads and a sort of broad social conscience.
Blessed with prodigious memory and near-perfect timing, Coleman turned Arnold Jackson into a '70s, then '80s, cultural icon; First Lady Nancy Reagan even taped a cameo for the show in 1983 as part of her "Just Say No" campaign.
After the show ended in 1986, Coleman scrambled for bit parts and had a string of legal battles. His mother tried to gain control of his $6-million fortune, while his wife, and fans - many of them, it seemed - claimed he had assaulted them.
According to The Associated Press, Coleman moved to Utah in 2005, and a police tally early this year found that officers were called to assist or intervene with Coleman more than 20 times over those years. Some of the disputes involved his wife, Shannon Price, whom he married in 2007; they both later appeared on "Divorce Court."
In 2003, a San Francisco weekly, the East Bay Express, endorsed him as candidate for governor in the recall race for Gray Davis' seat. Coleman ultimately got 12,683 votes.
Born in 1968 in Zion, Ill., near Chicago, he was diagnosed with kidney disease when he was 2 and underwent his first transplant at age 5.