Gary Coleman Dead at 42

Sad news:

Gary Coleman, the child star of the hit TV series Diff’rent Strokes, has died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 42. Coleman was taken to a Utah hospital yesterday in critical condition, went into a coma later that day, and died today. Coleman became an instant star when he was picked to play the youngest of two black children who are adopted by a wealthy white man on NBC’s Diff’rent Strokes. He became so popular that the writers quickly rebuilt the entire show around his character, working his catchphrase “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” into every episode.

He was two years younger than me, so I quite literally watched him grow up.

Alas, all three of the child actors on that show went on to rather unenviable lives after the series ended.

Dana Plato, who played big sister Kimberly Drummond, committed suicide by prescription drugs in May 1999 after years of personal scandal.

Todd Bridges, who played big brother Willis Jackson, led a life of crime and drugs before turning his life around in recent years.

Actor Conrad Bain, who played the father, Phillip Drummond, and was ostensibly the star of the show, is retired at 87.

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, Popular Culture, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    Dana Plato’s son recently committed suicide as well.

  2. legion says:

    Well that sucks. Additionally, I guess ‘Avenue Q’ now needs a re-write…

  3. Drew says:

    It is always sad that someone does not have the ability to live a long and full life.

    The whole child actor thing is a weird world, with a disproportionate number of adverse outcomes.

    Our (now 12 yr old) daughter was a “Gerber Baby,” adorning the bottles of Gerber baby food. Perhaps she still is, I haven’t looked in awhile. She had “the look.” Subsequently, myriad adventures over the past 11 years. Parenting Magazine, American Girl Doll mags, posters and end caps. Mall of America posters, TV commercials etc. Its been nice in that, first, she enjoys it, but also she has learned a sense of responsibility at an early age when you commit to projects. (No, you can’t go to Sarah’s party, you decided you wnated to do the so and so shoot.) And she has become to understand what a production unit needs: performance – first take. No screwing around.

    But it can be creepy. You run into people in this business who are desperate to have their kids become Disney Kids or whatever. Very creepy…… So this is fading now as an activity. The point being that the people who become those child actors, and those who choose to push them, often end up with a bad outcome.

    There must be something fundamentally wrong and risky in this pursuit.