May 28, 2010, - 3:27 pm

Whatchoo Talkin’ Bout, Willis?: Gary Coleman, RIP

By Debbie Schlussel

I always felt sorry for Gary Coleman, who died today, at age 42, from a brain hemorrhage. Does he deserve the publicity he’s now getting in death that he got in life and which true American heroes like John Finn will never get? No. But, sadly, this is America, where pop culture is king, and American valor is . . . who cares?


Coleman could never get away from his short height (induced by health conditions) or childhood fame and struggled to make a living because his finances were raped by selfish parents, agents, and advisors.  I remember when he was harassed by the press and fans, while he was trying to make a living as a security guard and quickly lost his job.  Yes, he punched some fans.  But he caught no breaks. And to make ends meet, he had to make a series of embarrassing appearances with bimbos and others on TV and elsewhere, including dumb “exclusives” on “Entertainment Tonight.” Sad.

Hopefully, he can now be at peace.

As a kid in the ’80s, I watched “Diff’rent Strokes” as did my siblings and friends and we always liked the cute, diminutive character he played with attitude, Arnold Jackson Drummond, the adopted Black child of a White millionaire.  On the show, he typically uttered his classic line, “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”  At the time, the show about an inter-racial family was considered barrier-breaking.  And the stars were invited to the Reagan White House.

But it seems there was a curse because every actor who played a sibling on that show has had serious problems.  Dana Plato became pregnant and was fired from the show.  She was a drug addict and starred in low budget porn films, then tried to hold up video stores for money.  She died of an overdose, and just last week, her now-grown son committed suicide.  We all know about Todd Bridges’ problems with drugs and criminal activity, which he now seems to have overcome.  Coleman, though, could never overcome his continuing health problems which made him diminutive in height.  He had two kidney transplants and constant dialysis.  And while he wasted some of the $18 million that he’d amassed as a child star, a good deal of it was flat-out stolen by his parents and handlers.

So, it’s a sad and very public end to a sad and very public life.  Now, he can finally get some peace and quiet.  He wasn’t an American hero who fought and gave life or limb in battle.  But he was entertaining and made us laugh for a brief time, back in the day.

Gary Coleman, Rest In Peace.  Whatchoo Talkin’ Bout, Willis?

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19 Responses

This is so sad. I saw Todd Bridges on TV not too long ago and he is very upset about his costars’ troubles. Probably tvland will air a diff’rent strokes marathon in his honor. RIP Gary.

Matthew on May 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm

RIP. I even watched his cartoon back in the day. I think he was an Angel or something. Not as good as the Mr.T cartoon with the gymnastics team.

Matt on May 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I remember watching Diff’rent Strokes in the 80’s and even the reruns. It was one of the many shows to jump networks from NBC over to ABC in its last season (1985-86). By then the show had added members to the cast like Mary Ann Mobley as Mr. Drummond’s love interest. The show lost its spark.

I think the show is on DVD.

Debbie, I hope Gary can now talk to Dana Plato about their troubles.

Bob Porrazzo on May 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    That character was originally played by Dixie Carter who sadly passed away last month.

    Matthew on May 28, 2010 at 4:20 pm

He had incredible talent and just disappeared from our lives. But we’ll always remember the kid Gary Coleman.

May he RIP.

NormanF on May 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

This was a really well-done and heartfelt piece. I’m just a few years younger than Gary Coleman and he was an icon of my youth, a great entertainer, and (I think we can all agree, no matter what side of the political coin we are on) a sad symptom of the celebrity machine. Like you, I feel like a part of my youth just died.

Thanks Debbie. I sometimes wax nasty in your comments, but fair is fair – this was a nice tribute.

Zoot on May 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm

This is so sad. The poor guy was used by everyone as a child and then when he was no longer useful, he was discarded.

Because of his size, the poor guy didn’t even have a girlfriend until recent years and from the police blotter, he and his wife fought constantly.

I guess it just goes to show that fame and fortune may lead to short term happiness, but long term it is often a curse.

RIP Gary and thanks for the laughs.

jimmyPx on May 28, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Rest In Peace Gary Coleman. Hope you know now how many lives you touched and how many laughs you gave your audience.

Angie on May 28, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Yes he died, just in case you missed the FOX news alert. Not nearly as important news as the American death toll in Afghanistan reached 1,000 right before Memorial Day weekend.

Priorities America!!!

US SVETERAN on May 28, 2010 at 7:41 pm

I just hope his parents and all the other leeches who raped and squandered his fame feel just a little remorse for doing so to such a sweet soul.
Rip coleman you fought the good fight and survived as long as you could.
Somewhat condescending SchlusshBag but aleast you tride.

THE LORD THOR on May 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    At least you tride to be smart too! It’s tried you retard.

    US veteran on May 28, 2010 at 9:42 pm

RIP, Gary Coleman.

I also watched Diff’rent Strokes as a kid, and it’s a shame about the problems that the sibling stars endured afterwards.

JeffE on May 28, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Based on a lot of his public comments over the years, Gary Coleman was an ideological conservative.

Gerald on May 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Dear Gerald: Who cares?

    Miranda Rose Smith on May 30, 2010 at 11:24 am

He was not a happy camper. His comedic timing, even as a kid was perfect. His mom & dad ripped him off for millions. For some reason, I always felt sorry for him. I hope he has finally found peace. Bless you

#1 Vato on May 28, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Poor guy was played by others as some type of minstrel. He had to do many things for money.

CaliforniaScreaming on May 29, 2010 at 12:02 am

Coulda been a contenda.

The Terrorist's Advocate on May 29, 2010 at 5:18 pm

He had one commercial that went “when my family and friends wouldn’t lend me any money, [company that provides high-interest loans] did!”

Richard on May 29, 2010 at 10:54 pm

whatchoo you talkin about willis? R.I.P

king on May 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

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