Friday, May 28, 2010

Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum…

Just learned from both Toby O’Brien of Inner Toob and Hobbyfan at The Land of Whatever of the passing of former child star Gary Coleman, who died from a brain hemorrhage earlier today. He was 42. Toby muses that the first show on which he remembered seeing Coleman make an appearance was Fernwood 2-Night—for me, it was an episode of Good Times (he appeared on that sitcom twice as a smart-assed character named “Gary James”).

Although I never considered myself a fan of Coleman’s—not that this is his fault; child actors just give me a rash as a rule—it’s impossible not to acknowledge that he was a truly remarkable individual. His television immortality was cemented as the precocious star of the 1978-86 sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, a series in which he played Arnold Jackson, a young black orphan who (along with his older brother Willis, played by Todd Bridges) is adopted by white billionaire Philip Drummond in a scenario that so mirrored real life it’s positively uncanny. (Okay, I apologize for that—Strokes was a sitcom, not a documentary.) Arnold’s constant skepticism would often result in his saying to his brother: “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”—which became a national catchphrase. Coleman’s success led to other television projects capitalizing on his cute-as-a-button status—among these were the TV movies The Kid from Left Field (1979), The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982) and The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983).

Coleman attempted to parlay his television fame to the silver screen with vehicles like On the Right Track (1981) and Jimmy the Kid (1982) but his movie career never really took hold—perhaps it was a case of people not wanting to pay for something they could see on their TV sets for free. After Strokes, his post-show business career took a bit of a plunge and although he remained a pop culture icon, his guest appearances on shows like 227, Married With Children, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Children clone Unhappily Ever After weren’t enough to put groceries on the table; among his sidelines were working as a security guard at a shopping mall and running a video arcade. He achieved a brief return to the spotlight in 2003 when he announced his candidacy for governor of California (he finished eighth…out of 135 candidates).

"I want to escape that legacy of Arnold Jackson," Coleman once commented in an interview with The New York Times during his candidacy. “I'm someone more. It would be nice if the world thought of me as something more.” Well, that’s just the way of the world…but the “legacy of Arnold Jackson” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Still…it was a hell of a ride. R.I.P, Gary…you will be missed.

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Brent McKee said...

Who would have thought 20 years ago that Todd Bridges and even Conrad Bain would outlive Gary Coleman.

I heard an interview with Bridges the other day on CBC Radio - before Gary Coleman's death - and he seems to have finally gotten his life together. He said speaks with Conrad Bain often; considers him to be almost a second father, and better than his real father ever was.

Oh Crap said...

Thanks for this respectful piece. So many people say such cruel things about Gary, but he was one of those "pioneer" in many ways. NBC raked in the $$$ because of him.