Gary Coleman's Big Life
NO SMALL FEAT
The Zion, Ill., native parlayed a congenital kidney disease – medication for which stunted his growth – into a career, landing a star-making role at age 10 on the '80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, about two black orphans who are adopted by their late mother's wealthy white employer. But on May 28, the actor, 42, died from a brain hemorrhage after falling and hitting his head. Take a look back at his storied life in Hollywood – and remember the star who stole hearts as a kid.
A 'STROKE' OF GENIUS
With his character Arnold's catchphrase, "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?," the Diff'rent Strokes star (with his onscreen brother Willis, played by Todd Bridges, and onscreen adoptive father Mr. Drummond, played by Conrad Bain) became a beloved figure – beating out Brooke Shields, first daughter Amy Carter and others for "Favorite American Child" in a 1980 PEOPLE magazine poll, just two years after the sitcom debuted.
A PRESIDENTIAL VISIT
In 1983, First Lady Nancy Reagan paid a visit to the Diff'rent Strokes set to talk to Coleman and his TV classmates about drugs. "We didn't talk about much," Coleman told PEOPLE. "She came in, did her job and left."
A TROUBLED CAST
The siblings of Diff'rent Strokes struggled after leaving the show: Dana Plato, who was written off the show after her 1984 pregnancy, robbed a liquor store and committed suicide in 1999, Todd Bridges battled cocaine addiction, detailing his struggle in his memoir, Killing Willis and Coleman – who underwent a kidney transplant during filming – filed for bankruptcy after suing his parents and endured several legal scuffles, from reckless driving charges to disorderly conduct.
A 'DIFF'RENT' LIFE
Following Diff'rent Strokes's end in 1986, Coleman appeared in a few made-for-TV movies and landed stunt roles – like playing Drew Carey's doppelganger for a 2001 episode of The Drew Carey Show – but he never achieved the kind of success he had enjoyed with the sitcom.
ROCK THE VOTE
Coleman was one of several celebrities – including Arnold Schwarzenegger, porn star Mary Carey and author Arianna Huffington – who ran for California Governor in 2003. "I'm probably the least qualified for the job, but I'll have some great people around me," Coleman said about the election, which Schwarzenegger won.
After secretly marrying his girlfriend of five months, Shannon Price, in 2007, the couple appeared on Divorce Court in 2008. "Marriage is tough, and it's probably just going to get tougher the older I get and the older she gets," Coleman said about Price, whom he met filming the 2006 comedy Church Ball. "As long as there's love and respect, everything else should work out." Price was by Coleman's side, as he lost his battle with a brain hemorrhage at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.