Coleman suffered an intracranial hemorrhage at his home in Utah Wednesday and was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah. Family and friends were at his side when his life support was terminated, and he died at the hospital at 12:05 p.m. local time Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Coleman starred as Arnold Jackson, an African-American child adopted along with his older brother, Willis, by a wealthy white widower, Mr. Drummond (Conrad Bain). Coleman mugged and charmed his way into audiences' hearts with a persona that mixed knowing wisecracks and vulnerability. Arnold's catchphrase — "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis" — became a pop culture staple.
Child stars gone too soon
Coleman's brother-in-law, Shawn Price, expressed gratitude for "all the wonderful support everyone has been extending to Gary's family."
At a news conference Friday on behalf of his sister and Coleman's wife, Shannon Price, he added: "Thousands of e-mails have poured into the hospital. This has been so comforting to the family to know how beloved he still is."
Though it didn't aspire to the groundbreaking social commentary of All in the Family, the show sensitively examined such issues as adoption, racism, drug abuse, coping with a parent's death and child molestation. It epitomized the 1980s trend of "special episodes," including one in which then first lady Nancy Reagan encouraged kids to say no to drugs, and another in which guest star Gordon Jump played a bike store owner who took a predatory interest in Arnold and his friend Dudley.
But for all the lessons they taught on-screen, the show's child stars had tragic personal lives. Dana Plato, who played Arnold and Willis' adopted sister, Kimberly Drummond, suffered through drug addiction and died from an overdose of prescription medication in 1999 at age 34. Her son, Tyler Lambert, recently committed suicide at 25.
Todd Bridges, who played Willis, also battled with drug addiction and faced several legal problems, including a charge of attempted murder. He was acquitted.
Spinoffs of the sitcom included the NBC hit series The Facts of Life, which followed Mr. Drummond's former maid, Mrs. Garrett, as the house-mother at an all-girls school dorm. Another Diff'rent Strokes spinoff was NBC's short-lived series Hello, Larry, which centered on Philip Drummond's friend Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson), who was a radio show host.
Coleman's later work included mostly endorsement deals and odd one-off jobs, such as his coverage of Michael Jackson's child molestation trial for a comedy radio station.
The actor was also among 135 candidates who ran for California governor to replace Gray Davis — a race won by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He came in eighth place with 12,488 votes, or 0.2 percent, just behind Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, according to The Associated Press.
Colman had at least two kidney transplants and ongoing dialysis treatments for a kidney disease he suffered as a child that led to his small stature. He was hospitalized twice this year, most recently after suffering a seizure on the set of The Insider.
The Illinois-born actor has also faced a slew of financial and legal woes besides medical problems. In 1999, he filed for bankruptcy. In February 2010, he pled guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief in conjunction with a domestic violence charge involving wife Shannon Price. The two married in 2007 and appeared on Divorce Court the following year.