As you have probably heard by now, Gary Coleman of TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes” passed away yesterday of complications related to a brain hemorrhage suffered after a fall. It was a tragic end to a life that seemed custom fit for tragedy. Coleman was one of the child stars of the 80s that never could get his life back on the right track. In the end, he might be remembered more as a cautionary tale than for his work.
The show that made Coleman famous began in 1978 on NBC and stayed on the air until 1986 where it wrapped up its final season on ABC. As the spunky Arnold, Coleman became the emotional center of the show, quite the burden for someone at the tender age of 10. Through 8 seasons, he delivered punchlines with the skill of a seasoned professional. Of course, like many of the shows of its time, “Diff’rent Strokes” is also known for being exploitative and profoundly racist, but we should see it as a product of its time.
Because of his talent (and possibly the offensive nature of his show), Coleman will forever be a part of popular culture. Not very many TV stars become characters in Tony Award winning musicals, but Avenue Q did just that for Gary. The show is focused on people who are seem to have lost their way in the world, but as the super of their building Coleman reminds them that there are always worse things that could happen and that they can overcome them as he did. Let that be Gary’s legacy for all of us.