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Gary Coleman, child star of 1970s show 'Diff'rent Strokes,' dies after intercranial hemorrhage

The family of former child television star Gary Coleman says he is on life support and unconscious after suffering an intracranial hemorrhage at his home.
The Associated Press Modified: May 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm •  Published: May 28, 2010
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PROVO, Utah (AP) — Gary Coleman, the child star of the smash 1970s TV sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" whose later career was marred by medical and legal problems, died Friday after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 42.

Utah Valley Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Janet Frank said life support was terminated and Coleman died at 12:05 p.m. MDT.

Coleman, with his sparkling eyes and perfect comic timing, became a star after "Diff'rent Strokes" debuted in 1978. He played younger brother Arnold Jackson a pair of African-American siblings adopted by a wealthy white man.

His popularity faded when the show ended after six seasons on NBC and two on ABC.

Coleman suffered continuing ill health from the kidney disease that stunted his growth and had a host of legal problems in recent years.

Coleman suffered the brain hemorrhage Wednesday at his Santaquin home, 55 miles south of Salt Lake City.

A statement from the family said he was conscious and lucid until midday Thursday, when his condition worsened and he slipped into unconsciousness. Coleman was then placed on life support.

Diff'rent Strokes" debuted on NBC in 1978 drew most of its laughs from the tiny, 10-year-old Coleman.

Race and class relations became topics on the show as much as the typical trials of growing up.

Coleman was an immediate star, and his skeptical "Whatchu talkin' 'bout?" — usually aimed at his brother, Willis — became a catchphrase.

In a 1979 Los Angeles Times profile, his mother, Edmonia Sue Coleman, said her son had always been a ham as a small child. He acted in some commercials before he was signed by T.A.T., the production company that created "Diff'rent Strokes."

"Gary remembers everything. EVERYTHING," co-producer and director Herb Kenwith told the newspaper. "His power of concentration is unlike any adult's I know."

Asked by Ebony magazine in 1979 how he learned his lines so easily, young Gary replied, "It's easy!"

But the attention his starring role brought him could be a burden as well as a pleasure. Coleman told The Associated Press in 2001 that he would do a TV series again, but "only under the absolute condition that it be an ensemble cast and that everybody gets a chance to shine."

"I certainly am not going to be the only person on the show working," he said. "I've done that. I didn't like it."

The series lasted six seasons on NBC and two on ABC and lives on thanks to DVDs and YouTube. But its equally enduring legacy became the former child stars' troubles in adulthood, including the 1999 suicide of Dana Plato, who played the boys' white, teenage sister.

Todd Bridges, who played Coleman's brother, was tried and acquitted of attempted murder.

Coleman had financial and legal problems in addition to continuing ill health from the kidney disease that required dialysis and at least two transplants.

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