Friday, May 28, 2010

Gary Coleman Dead; Lived Like Marlon Brando

Child actor Gary Coleman has died at the age of 42, following head injuries sustained from a fall at his home in Utah earlier this week.  If you're within five years of 40 years old or so, you almost certainly remember him fondly and well as the cute, sassy little kid named Arnold on the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, which ran from 1978-1986. ("What you talkin' about Willis?" six second clip HERE.) You can read his New York Times obituary HERE.

But after the show was cancelled Coleman was dogged by legal, financial and health problems as he aged uncomfortably into adulthood, frequently in the glare of unwanted public attention.  He had two kidney transplants.  He declared bankruptcy in 1999. He was arrested multiple times in the 1990s for disorderly conduct and assault.  

I remember that even when Diff'rent Strokes was still on TV in the 1980s his chronic health problems were commonly known and the possibility that he might not live into adulthood was speculated about regularly in the media. As a result,  I've always thought of his painfully awkward adult years sort of like those of Marlon Brando.  It's been said that the matinee idol Marlon Brando of the 1950s was "meant" to have died young and beautiful like James Dean, not to have lived on for decades as a cartoonishly corpulent recluse. In the same spirit, it might be said that we weren't "meant" to have seen cute little "Arnold" from Diff'rent Strokes grow into a temperamental, troubled man, who at one point was reduced to working as a high school security guard despite being only 4' 8" tall and instantly recognizable. You can watch the 1 minute clip HERE.

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