Some Serious Words About Gary Coleman

It was all too easy to crack jokes at the expense of Gary Coleman when he was alive. I know. I did it. But now that he has passed away at the age of 42, I have nothing funny to say. For a time, Coleman had what appeared to be a charmed life, enjoying superstar status on television in the late 1970s and on into the 80. But his star quickly faded, his life became a series of personal problems and tragedies that played out before the watchful eye of a fickle public that loves to worship its idols as much as it loves to tear them down. This society puts so much importance on residing at the top of some pyramid, where fame, popularity and riches are the measure of a person’s worth, and millions of people dream of sitting at the top of the pyramid. They want the lauded position of public acceptance so much that they make fools of themselves on television shows hoping for a brief moment of fame and love. Well, Gary Coleman had all of that, and look what it got him. His career, his life and his tragic death have gone from cautionary tale punctuated by a series of punchlines, to an American tragedy.

I don’t know what is more sad, that Gary Coleman lived most of his life in the shadow of what he once was—the popular term is “has been”—and probably never had a chance to live a “normal” life (whatever that is), or the fact that so many people want to be Gary Coleman. Or at least what Gary Coleman was before it all fell apart, before his parents robbed him blind, before he was forever typecast as Arnold Drummond, and before he struggled to live a life outside the watchful eye of a public waiting to see what other jokes could be cracked at his expense. But this is the other side of what it means to be famous and popular and rich. All that we have and acquire can be taken away—sometimes a bit at a time, sometimes all at once—until eventually our lives end and it’s all over in this corporal state we call life. Is fame and fortune worth it if we are robbed of our dignity, and news of our death is met with a response recalling a catch phrase from a television sitcom? I would like to think that as a society we are better than that, but we aren’t. We helped make Gary Coleman what he was, and we also helped break him. I can think of plenty of people who would not have survived as long as Gary Coleman had they endured what he endured. And in his death, the least we can do is pay respect to a fellow human being who never had the luxury of having his flaws, weaknesses and personal tragedies hidden from the public. May you rest in peace, Gary Coleman.

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