Remember Arnold from 'Diff'rent Strokes'? He Struggled Financially and Was Feuding with His Parents

Mary Scott
Mar 15, 2019
09:11 P.M.

Gary Coleman became a TV darling in the 1980s with his portrayal of “Arnold” in “Diff’rent Strokes,” but was also a troubled man with legal, financial, and health woes that eventually led to his untimely death.


From 1978 to 1986, Coleman made viewers laugh with his comical character, playing a black American orphan who was adopted, along with his older brother, by a rich, white man.

Coleman was only ten at the time the show made its debut but quickly became a fan-favorite, thanks mainly to his popularized catchphrase, “What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?”

The Illinois-born actor played “Arnold” for eight years, as well as several other film roles, but it appears his life began to unravel when “Diff’rent Strokes” was canceled.



Coleman had started his company around the same time he began to play “Arnold” and his parents, who managed his career full-time, reportedly wrote themselves into the contract as his paid employees.

Coleman’s acting career suffered a decline after “Diff’rent Strokes,” and when the actor decided to turn to his trust fund, estimated to be about $18 million, he got a rude shock: He had only $220,000 to his name.


Coleman took legal action against his parents, taking them to court over misappropriation of his trust fund. The messy court battle ended with Coleman gaining victory, but even at that, he could only recover $3.8 million.


The money woes meant a lot to Coleman because he was also struggling with his health and had tons of medical bills. He was diagnosed at birth with multiple health issues and a congenital kidney defect, the complications of which left him stunted at 4 feet 8 inches.


So broke was Coleman that he eventually took a security guard job and declared bankruptcy in 1999. The man who was once the highest-paid child star on TV (earning $80,000 per week) also tried auctioning off his personal effects online, telling The Guardian in November of the same year:

“I've learnt that any help is good, as long as you've first tried to help yourself, and to help other people. Which, believe me, I have. …I've always been an optimist, you know? I've always believed that if you keep fighting, and keep on believing in yourself, sooner or later it will turn around."



Things did turn around, but only for the worse. Coleman had suffered depression and attempted suicide multiple times following the legal battle with his parents; his continuous financial woes and quick temper were not helping either.

In 1998, he was charged with assault after punching a female bus driver who asked for his autograph, and in July 2007, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after engaging in an altercation with then-girlfriend Shannon Price.



Coleman would later marry Price -- whom he met on the set of the 2006 film "Church Ball" -- in 2007, but the marriage only lasted a year.

The two, however, remained close and maintained a tumultuous relationship. They were living together in Coleman’s home in May 2010 when the actor fell at their Utah home.

Coleman suffered a brain hemorrhage as a result of the fall and died a few days later at the age of 42.

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