If Gary Coleman Was Broke, Why Fight Over His Will?

Some people might think the troubled star might be worth more dead than alive. You know, just like Elvis

By Leslie Gornstein Jun 09, 2010 4:00 AMTags
Gary ColemanCarlo Allegri/Getty Images

Why were people fighting over Gary Coleman's will? I thought he had no money.
—Tracie, Key West, via the inbox

Gary Coleman didn't exactly have a Michael Jackson-like reputation in the assets department. Coleman was better known as that former megastar who filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and who, as late as three years ago, was shilling for a loan company.

That endorsement deal came after a cash-strapped Coleman phoned Cash Call seeking a loan. So where's the value in Coleman's estate, you ask? I've got a pretty good idea:

First, for the record, Coleman had been working off and on in the years up to his death. For one, he appeared in that Midgets vs. Mascots movie—though I wouldn't be shocked if the payout for Coleman wasn't all that great. (Reps for Coleman's estate and his ex, Shannon Price, didn't return requests for comment.)

Instead, lawyers suggest to me, Coleman may have had a few accounts or properties tucked away that the public just doesn't know about. For one, Todd Bridges said this week that Coleman likely has a pension maintained by Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. According to Radar, which got the interview, Bridges said he didn't know the final amount in Coleman's pension when he died. However, he said his own was $150,000-a-year for a lifetime, starting at age 55.

That would sure make sense.

"After all," notes Laura Zwicker from the law firm Greenberg Glusker, "there are at least two people who think there is some benefit form being named as executor or beneficiary under Coleman's will."

There's one other possible cause for the fighting. It's a bit macabre. But it's also more likely.

"They may think Coleman is more valuable dead than alive," says attorney Jason Smolen. "Think of Elvis Presley. There may be some value to the rights over his likeness going forward. And his estate will still own that as an asset. This is the entertainment business; that value could be in the millions."

Exactly what kinds of deals might we be talking about? Anything that involves Coleman's face.

"It can be anything from a U.S. Postal Service Stamp to print advertising to trading cards," says Miles Feldman, a partner at Liner Grode Stein, who represents the heirs of DJ AM.

"They could use that image in all kinds of advertising. Think of Martin Luther King, Einstein—who are iconic—down to people who just have notoriety. The estate of John Dillinger licenses his name and likeness for use with replica weapons, for example."

So, if, over the next few months, you spot a bunch of new DVDs, books, photo collections or even other products involving the image of Coleman, you'll know exactly why folks have been fighting over the rights to his estate.

It may have no cash assets—but it has a lot of potential.