An icon of the 1970s and 1980s, Gary Coleman passed away yesterday at the age of 42 from a brain hemorrhage. The diminutive actor had had many health and personal problems over the years but was still beloved by many, especially those who remember his work on the Diff’rent Strokes sitcom.
The family of Coleman’s widow, Shannon Price, held a press conference today. Via a statement, she said, “We are very grateful for all the wonderful support everyone has been extending to Gary’s family. Thousands of emails have poured in to the hospital. This has been so comforting to the family to know how beloved he still is.”
In a statement yesterday, the family said, “At times it may not have been apparent, but he always had fond memories of being an entertainer and appreciates his fans for all their support over the years.”
Fellow TV actors also expressed their grief. Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show) tweeted, “RIP Gary Coleman, I will always be a fan!” John Stamos (Full House) wrote, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be…actors. r.i.p. Gary.”
Diff’rent Strokes co-star Todd Bridges said, “It’s unfortunate. It’s a sad day…It’s sad that I’m the last kid alive from the show.” He later tweeted, “Don’t know what to really think today will have to really pray about this one.”
Coleman’s on-screen adopted dad, Conrad Bain, had been praying for his recovery, as had co-star Charlotte Rae. She said, “I said a prayer for him this morning after hearing about his condition. Gary was so loving, so charming. He was the big star of the show… He was the reason the show was a hit.”
Having played the show’s second housekeeper, Pearl, Mary Jo Catlett told Just My Show, “If his stature were measured in talent, he would have been the tallest man in the world. He gave so much happiness to his fans and was a joy to work with… And he was funny, about three weeks ago he did an interview and was asked ‘Do you think there’s a curse connected with the cast of Diff’rent Strokes?’ He said ‘No, unless Mary Jo Catlett goes to jail for a drug overdose.’ Now that’s funny, and I was glad he had me on his mind, a very fine mind it was.”
Jerry Houser (The Bradys), who worked with Coleman on an animated series recalled, “I worked with Gary around 1982 when we did the animated series The Gary Coleman Show together. He was 14 at the time and at the height of his success with Diff’rent Strokes. I know over the last number of years he’s had a tough go of it, but I have nothing but good things to say about my time with him. He was a bright, cool, and extremely talented kid. After all is said and done, Gary gave a lot of people the chance to laugh and feel good. That’s a wonderful legacy to leave behind. He’ll no doubt be missed.”
Robert Guillaume (Benson) worked with Coleman in TV movies, and said, “Gary was a dear friend. He was so enormously talented. His death saddens me beyond my ability to express. I can only hope that he finds the peace he so earnestly sought. I will miss him.”
Many young people know Coleman only from being portrayed in the Broadway musical, Avenue Q. The show features Coleman (played by a female performer) singing about his financial problems and the challenges of being a former child star. He sings, “Try having people stopping you to ask you, ‘What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?'”. “It gets old.”
It’s been said that Coleman wasn’t crazy about a fictional version of himself being in the show but kept a good-natured attitude about it.
Last night’s performance was dedicated to Coleman and afterward, Danielle K. Thomas, who plays Coleman in the show, gave an onstage tribute. She said, “I just want to say that, for me, it has never sucked to be Gary Coleman” (referring to the show’s opening number). She went on, “We will continue to light up the stage and audiences, doing what we love to do every single night.” Referring to another song from the musical, the actress concluded, “So thank you, Gary Coleman, and goodbye, but only for now.” The character will remain in the show.