Arnold on 'The Diff'rent Strokes' Suffered Life-Long Health Woes before His Death

Jaimie-lee Prince
Apr 22, 2019
10:34 A.M.

Gary Coleman, one of the most beloved sitcom stars, had a serious condition and was plagued by many health issues before he passed away at an early age.


The beloved sitcom star of the late 1970s to early 1980s was best known for his role on 1978's "Diff'rent Strokes." Yet the story of how he arrived there is interesting.

Born on February 8, 1968, Coleman's birth mother was homeless. Thus he was adopted and his parents quickly discovered he had an atrophied kidney and a weak second one.

By the age of 16, Coleman's intake of dialysis medication was so much that his growth was stunted and he remained at the height of 4'8". He had had two kidney transplants by that time.

Coleman was discovered for tv as he stood in a Chicago bank. His first roles would be on "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times." When NBC put him in "Diff'rent Strokes," he quickly stole the show.

He played Arnold Jackson, an adopted African-American who enjoyed the wealth of a white Park Avenue resident. In the show, Coleman coined his signature phrase, "What'chu talkin' about, Willis?"


He went on to appear in other productions including 1979's "The Kid from Left Field," 1980's "Scout's Honor," 1982's "The Kid with the Broken Halo," 1983's "The Kid with the 200 I.Q.," and 1984's "The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins."

An animated 1982 show also saw Coleman as the star of a series produced by Hanna-Barbera called "The Gary Coleman Show." The star was reportedly the highest-paid actor on television around this time.

Unfortunately, Coleman later experienced type-casting, in which he was only selected for certain roles that required him to act younger than his age due to his appearance.

Coleman got a win when he sued his parents and business manager in 1989 for misappropriation of his earnings. He gained $1.2 million in the settlement.

Gary Coleman, deceased actor of "Diff'rent Strokes" | Photo: Getty Images

Gary Coleman, deceased actor of "Diff'rent Strokes" | Photo: Getty Images


Unfortunately, it wasn't to last as lawyer fees, taxes, and growing medical bills for dialysis treatment would leave him without much of the settlement.

His health issues plagued him alongside not being able to find proper work. He was stuck with guest appearances or small parts. His money disappeared in medical bills and by 1999 he declared bankruptcy.

Coleman's frustrations also came out when he punched a fan who wanted an autograph. This led to a court-ordered anger management class. His stint of disorderly conduct charges and even reckless driving further showcased his anger to the public.

In 2007, Coleman got married to actress Shannon Price. They met on the set of "Church Call," and Price was considerably younger than Coleman, but their marriage wasn't to last.

They experienced a bitter divorce soon after, with reports that Price was very harsh in how she spoke to her husband regarding his height and intelligence.


Coleman starred in his last film in 2009 called "Midgets vs. Mascots." Prior to that, he appeared in reality tv shows that many would say demeaned his persona.

Through it all, Coleman was taking pills for nephritis, his kidney condition. He reportedly experienced at least two seizures in his short lifetime. A year after his marriage, fans heard that Coleman suffered an intracranial hemorrhage at home in Santaquin, Utah.

The condition causes blood to leave the brain's vessel and leads to swelling. Patients would then experience shock, and brain death. In a controversial twist, it was his ex-wife who would make the decision to pull the plug.

Though Price had a restraining order against her from Coleman, she was legally allowed to make medical decisions for the actor. On May 28, Coleman died at the age of 42 years old.

He wasn't the first from "Diff'rent Strokes" to go. His co-star Dana Plato also went through various woes leading to petty crime and pornography. She became an addict and took her own life with an overdose of painkillers in 1999.


Conrad Bain (Mr. Drummond in the show) died at age 89 in 2013 due to a stroke, while Charlotte Rae (the housekeeper) passed in 2017 was diagnosed with bone cancer and passed from a cardiac arrest at 92 in 2017.

Todd Bridges, who starred as Coleman's older brother, also went through various troubles in his life. He was accused and acquitted of murder, yet he is now the sole surviving member of the main cast of the forever classic "Diff'rent Strokes."

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