Coleman was 42 years old.
It comes as no secret that Coleman was beloved as the diminutive smart-aleck younger adopted brother Arnold Drummond (nee Jackson) on NBC’s “Diff’rent Strokes” from 1978-1986. It is also no secret that he went through the same plight as many child stars during that era: handling the celebrity status and life after the lights and the audience goes away.
It’s a difficult road for child stars to navigate through because the ability to separate their acting life from their real life never had a road map created from them. What separates Dana Plato and Danny Bonaduce from Sara Gilbert and Jodie Foster is a “real-life” supporting cast around them and a plan for another chapter in their lives. Sadly, many child stars have to deal with parents who live and profit through the children, bad advice, and the struggle to “be themselves” when the director says “cut” one final time.
Not to be maudlin as I write this, Coleman’s life was difficult and the odds were against him since birth. He was physically stunted by his life-long battle with kidney disease, not his post-“Diff’rent Strokes” life. People will remember Gary Coleman today not for his role as Arnold Drummond, but as a complex, bitter, and lonely individual who could never find the path of happiness and peace that all of us are looking for.
Coleman lived the role of the clown that made everyone laugh, and behind the curtain, cries in sadness for himself.
Today’s video is an appropriate one befitting Coleman. Here is Smokey Robinson and the Miracles performing “Tears of a Clown.” The lyrics describe, in my opinion, Gary Coleman’s life.