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Gary Coleman dead at 42

Gary Coleman has died, and so goes an unforgettable part of '70s and '80s TV. You will, of course, recall his one most famous role: Arnold Jackson of "Diff'rent Strokes," which actually had two separate runs, on NBC and ABC. 

There many other roles too, but ... well, I suspect the less said about some of those, the better. Below, some clips. First, the AP obit. The second clip is famous - Nancy Reagan comes to visit Arnold and the Drummonds. The next two are  four-minute condensations of full episodes; and then much, much more ... 

"Strokes" was one of those series that had a devoted audience, and because Coleman was absolutely the star (even old pro Charlotte Rae was overshadowed by the kid), he had devoted fans and still does. And while not specifically created by Bud Yorkin or Norman Lear, the show came out of their production company, Tandem, and was front row and center of an explosively popular new genre that they and Tandem had pioneered - the '70s sitcom with black leads and a sort of broad social consciousness. That didn't mean these shows were without their critics; they had plenty. J. Fred MacDonald, the historian of the African-American experience on TV, was particularly hard on some of them (mostly "Good Times") and slammed shows like "Strokes" and "Webster" for what he called their "racial condescension;" "predictably, U.S. television has never scheduled a series where a loving black couple 'rescued' a white child by adopting him," he wrote in "Blacks and White TV."

Was Coleman a good actor? As these clips demonstrate, he was a highly competent child actor with genuine comic timing. He was 10 when "Strokes" began and 18 when it concluded, though the career never much progressed after this role, and in fact regressed rather dramatically, if you include stuff like "Son of a Beach."

"Sad" will probably' the word you'll read in various obits and appreciations, and it won't be misplaced - especially considering his health issues. But a quick check of your memory will remind you of everything that has popped up the tabloids over the years - the fights, the wild temper, the marriage battles...

Before we get to the clips, check out this excerpt from a piece by Tom Shales long ago and far away. Tom is the great TV critic for The Washington Post, and interviewed Coleman thirty-two years ago...

  In a recent TV "awareness" survey commissioned by NBC Gary Coleman came in first, outranking such venerables as John Wayne and Walter Cronkite in terms of pure lovability. Now millions of dollars and more than one career are resting on his tiny-tot shoulders.Using cute kiddies to bolster TV ratings - and putting grown-up sayings in the mouths of babes - is nothing new, but the standard child has been the squeaky clean, tow-headed blue-eyed little darling. Gary Coleman adds an impudent new wrinkle to the adorable syndrome; on and off the screen, he belongs to a new generation of take-charge children. "He owns the studio," says a Tandem publicist. "The kid
runs the place. We just do what he tells us.

""Hey - what's this hair doing in my sandwich?" growls Gary from the other room.

As an actor, his line readings are instinctively perfect and punctuated with extravagant gesticulations that are all the funnier for coming from such a small, pudgy source. "I study the script frequently," Gary notes, "and I change lines now and then" to make them more natural.

Shirley Temple in her prime would never have been able to keep up with this; she devoted her child life to pleasing adults, not telling them what's what. Gary refuses to be pushed around or to be overwhelmed by such prosaic adult concepts as being the star of a hit TV series.For his part, Gary would just as soon be home playing with his electric trains in his birthplace, Zion, Ill. -- described by him as "just a little township, and then a town, and then a city, all molded up into a little 4,400-acre site."

He will spend Thanksgiving Day there with his mother and his father, Willie. He is their only child, and they almost lost him.

Born with a chronic kidney ailment, Gary was in and out of hospitals until the age of 5, when he underwent a successful kidney transplant.

"Thank God, he's been all right ever since," his mother says.

 More clips to come...




 The Coleman temper...



 "Divorce Court"...The tabloid dined out on this for days, weeks...

 And check out this: GC visits "Good Times:" 

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