"Even in death, as we can see on Twitter today, the joke of being Gary Coleman is what the world sees first." Blogger and author Richard Rushfield has posted a thoughtful—neither maudlin nor mocking—remembrance of child star Gary Coleman, who died yesterday. Rushfield attended a Los Angeles area school with Coleman in the mid-1980s.
Of all the bad hands people have been dealt in life, of the people who I have known up close, compared to the starving in Mongolia, Gary had as about a rotten combination as anything I'd seen. I won't give the details, but there was very much a horrifying tragedy about his life, a desperation that I think at age 16, was too big for us his classmates to comprehend or take in.
This was a kid who had been shoved on stage before he knew what the stage was; who had been farmed out by his parents to a network that used this child and his instant catch phrase as their trained seal while entirely depriving him of the life of a normal child. At this phase, Strokes had moved from NBC to squeeze once last season's worth of blood out of it on ABC. We didn't know then how the parents were systematically pillaging the fortunes their son was bringing in, but I do recall a sorta uncomfortable feeling about his father coming to pick him up in a massive, I believe Rolls Royce every day. And then there were his health problems which kept him in more pain than any of us knew and ultimately forced him to drop out before graduation.
But despite all this, there was this sense of some incredibly energetic mind trying to do things, striving, searching for his way, as all teenagers are, but with far fewer guideposts. On one end of the spectrum was the day he came to school dressed in an elaborate and impressive astronaut's uniform. On the other end, he was writing screenplays - something back then that teenagers didn't really do - which he carried around in his briefcase, spinning plans for a writing/directing career.
Given all that he had to deal with, its not surprising that he was never able to find the way through all the clutter of his life, the baggage of being Gary Coleman, to live out his dreams. How many of us after all do, with far less clinging onto us.
Gary as I knew him (Rushfield Babylon)