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Gary Coleman: Another Former Child Star Gone

Former child star Gary Coleman, best known for his role as wisecracking Arnold Willis on 80s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Friday at 42.

The actor suffered an intracranial hemorrhage after falling at his Santaquin, Utah, home on Wednesday and had been in a coma, according to EW.com.

For every former child star who makes it (Ron Howard, Jodie Foster), there are countless who can’t bear the difficult transition to adulthood (including Coleman’s ‘Strokes’ co-stars Todd Bridges and the late Dana Plato). In Coleman’s case, he had it harder than most given that his health condition literally prevented him from growing up.

Coleman suffered from a kidney disease that stunted his growth and required two transplant operations. His guest starring roles on The Jeffersons and Good Times helped him land a starring role at the age of 10 on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. The show aired on NBC from 1978-1986.

Playing one of two adopted black sons of a rich white widower, Coleman enchanted audiences and critics with his lively performance and his memorable catchphrase, “Whatchoo talkin’ about, Willis?

Although Coleman hadn’t landed a leading role since he was a kid, he continued to resonate with fans, who mourned his death on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook on Friday.

Celebrities tweeted their tributes to the child star.

“mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be…actors. r.i.p. gary,” wrote “Full House” actor John Stamos on his twitter feed.

“RIP Gary Coleman. He made my teen years funnier! Now I hope people will stop bullying him,” Tom Arnold tweeted.

Some posters tactlessly poked fun at Coleman’s difficult life.

“The world has lost a brilliant security guard,” wrote one poster on twitter, referring to the fact that later in his life, the down-on-his luck Coleman took a job as a security job.

Countless folks wondered if Coleman “died of a ‘Different Stroke.” Similarly unoriginal and tasteless people posted, “Gary coleman died? Whatch you talkin ’bout!”

Jeff Marx, the creator of the Broadway musical Avenue Q, who named a character in the show after Gary Coleman, told EW.com that he is dedicating tonight’s performance to Coleman.

Marx says that they will alter lines of the script that seem “inappropriate.” Following tonight’s show at New World Stages, there will be a tribute to Coleman led by Danielle K. Thomas, the actress who plays him in “Avenue Q.”

“We all grew up watching and enjoying his work, and it’s just very sad to hear,” Marx told EW.com.

I also grew up watching Coleman on “Diff’rent Strokes” (we’re the same age) and I could relate to his character, the wiser than his years younger sibling.

Although Coleman raked in as much as $100,000 per episode for ‘Diff’rent Strokes,” three-quarters of it ended up with his parents, advisers, lawyers, and the IRS. He later sued his parents and former business manager for stealing money (he won the case).

His life post-”Diff’rent Strokes” was troubled. In addition to his ongoing health and legal problems, Coleman also had serious financial troubles.

A 1979 TV Guide article headlined “Small Wonder,” described Coleman as having “the comic delivery” of Jack Benny, Groucho Marx and Richard Pryor. Unfortunately, he never lived up to his early potential.

It’s hard enough to be a child star transitioning to adulthod, but it’s that much harder when your parents mismanage your money, you suffer from medical problems, and you never grow taller than 4′ 8″.

We’ll remember you as the feisty, fast-talking Arnold Willis.

In fact, the first two seasons of Diff’rent Strokes are available on DVD.  I may rent it so that my girls can find out what everyone was talkin’ about.

Photo: http://picasaweb.google.com/pbg.hillman

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