Gary Coleman: Bankrupt

Ex-child star beset by decade's worth of legal and medical woes

By Joal Ryan Aug 19, 1999 12:30 AMTags
Gary Coleman, the highest-paid TV child actor of his era and onetime keeper of a multimillion-dollar estate, announced today he is broke.

The ex-Diff'rent Strokes star, whose recent credits included a stint as a mall security guard, personally filed the paperwork for bankruptcy protection this afternoon at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles.

"There's been a lot of financial and health [issues] that made it extremely difficult [for] him," said Gene Schwam, Coleman's longtime publicist. "[But] he's very optimistic...He's never given up."

Coleman claimed a debt of $72,000 in his Chapter 7 filing today.

The last 12 months have been particularly rough on the 31-year-old Coleman--even by Diff'rent Strokes' "cursed" standards. Since last August, the former child star has been arrested, tried and sentenced in the assault of a autograph-seeking (and reputedly abusive) fan. In July, he was taken into custody during a traffic stop for failing to pay the court-ordered $400 fine in the fan-bashing case.

Coleman's money troubles are a long way from the days when he earned up to $64,000 a week playing pint-sized, smart-mouth Arnold Drummond (né Jackson) on Diff'rent Strokes. The 1978-86 NBC sitcom costarred fellow child actors Todd Bridges and Dana Plato, who both endured their share of post-TV problems--and incarcerations. Plato committed suicide in May at age 34.

As recently as 1990, Coleman's TV fortune stood at a reported $7 million. But a bitter legal tug-of-war with his adoptive parents (he accused them of stealing as much as $1 million from his estate) and ongoing medical woes (he has lived with kidney dysfunction, including two failed transplants, since age 4) teamed to drain his bank account.

"I can spread that blame all the way around," Coleman said outside the courthouse, "from me to accountants to my adoptive parents, to agents to lawyers and back to me again."

The Hollywood that once awarded Coleman his own Saturday morning cartoon has had little use for the under-five-feet-tall actor since Diff'rent Strokes ended. Schwam said his client, who this year dabbled as a celebrity interviewer on the Web, is currently unemployed--although hopeful of landing a new gig for the coming fall season.

Added Coleman: "I am worth more than any gold in any reserve, because I'm here, I'm alive and I'm going to survive this and any other atrocity that may come up in my life."

(ORIGINALLY FILED 1:30 p.m. PT 8/18/99)