Friday, May 28, 2010
Another TV Child Star Is Dead
The news that Gary Coleman, the deeply troubled star of Diff'rent Strokes, has died at 42 is not surprising.
Coleman is the latest ex-kiddie star to have lived a pretty horrible adult life after being discarded by the industry he once served.
I only had one encounter with him on the set of his long running NBC TV series ((1978-86).
A group pf TV critics were visiting the set and NBC had provided as a gimmick guest pens with the series logo emblazoned on the sides.
This was 1980 or 1981, I'm figuring, and Coleman snatched one of the pens and started playing with it as any kid would.
But his mother took it away from him and cuffed him on the ears. That's right --infront of the TV critics.
I remember another occasion at a lavish network party where all the NBC stars were ordered to appear.
I got the seat next to Canadian born DF co-star Conrad Bain and he was talking about what an unnatural environment it was to growing children.
Bain didn't think they were getting enough schooling --there were tutors on the set as mandated by the California Education board.
But he wanted his youthful co-stars to have somethomng to fall back on when they were no longer in demand as performing kidlets. He said being famous so young had isolated them from their peers. And he was right. Left on their own in later life and they could not cope.
Bain's premonition came horribly true.
Another DF star, Dana Plato, died of a drug overdose in 1999 at age 34 and just weeks ago her son Tyler Lambert killed himself at age 25 11 years to the day after her tragic demise..
The third kid, Todd Haines, spent years in jail and has only recently been able to say he is free of the demons that once possessed him --drugs and violence.
At another network fete, this once for ABC and the network's fiftieth anniversary, I managed to get at the table occupied by the former kids of Eight Is Enough and heard another batch of horror stories.
These young people were simply cast aside when their series ended in 1981. Some had very bad luck.
The youngest, Adam Rich, was later jailed for breaking and entering before being taken under the wing of star Dick Van Patten.
The girl I sat next to, Lani O'Grady, wound up in a trailer camp in deep isolation and died there in 2001 at 46.
I could go on. Whatever happened to The Walton kids? The young stars of Father Knows Best?
Coleman never hit five feet because of recurring kidney disease. It might have been better had he never became famous because it was that fame that eventually turned around and destroyed him.
TV Fame has proved toxic for a whole host of former child stars whose only fault was they finally grew up and were no longer in demand.