The news about Gary Coleman is still lingering with me – I think it’s because not only was he an iconic part of TV and pop culture during my formative years, but he was my age. You seem to always give yourself a quick mortality check when somebody you know dies, especially someone with the same number of candles on the cake. And it did feel like I knew Coleman, at least a little. Not personally, of course, but he was a huge star on late-‘70s TV, and it seemed like he was everywhere on the dial – “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Good Times,” “Buck Rogers,” “Silver Spoons,” “Simon and Simon,” “Facts of Life.”
He was a little like – and hopefully this isn’t too degrading – a mascot of sorts for growing up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I rooted for him when he was going through his voluminous troubles – with his money, his parents, his relationships, his health. It always felt like Coleman had a sense of humor about his fame and the troubles that came with it. And sure, I laughed at the jokes in Broadway’s “Avenue Q,” when “Gary Coleman” managed an apartment building in the crummiest part of town, and everybody in the cast agreed that his life sucked the most out of all of theirs, including the puppets’.
But there’s a reason a Google search of the guy pops up 18 million hits. Tons of people liked his work, and felt like maybe he’d be able to find a way out from under the child-star cloud that hung over his head all these years.
Even though he was small in stature, the pop-culture legacy that he left behind is pretty big.