Childhood Memories From Gary Coleman

Well not directly.

This past week saw the death of a childhood star that for me brings back so many wonderful memories.  Gary Coleman was only two years older than I, but that little guy left quite an impression on this little girl back in the day.  So much has been made of Gary’s physical ailments or his brushes with the law, the “curse” of the show, and all that jazz, that I choose to remember him for what he exemplified to me – this big-hearted, fun-loving, little kid with the greatest smile.

It was 1978.  Jimmy Carter was our President, the world saw the death of two Popes (yes, two) within two months of each other, the Eagles won a Grammy for “Hotel California”, the Cowboys defeated the Broncos in the Super Bowl, and on the boob tube, television shows such as Three’s Company, M*A*S*H, Happy Days, and One Day at a Time were at the height of their popularity.  Then along came this brand new comedy about a wealthy white widower who adopts the two African-American boys of his deceased housekeeper and gives them a life that they probably only dreamed about.  That show’s name was Different Strokes.

From the moment it hit the screen, all of us ten year-olds were excited to see a comedy that we could relate to.  Gary’s now infamous line, “Whatcha talkin’ about Willis?” with that smirky little pout face became the signature of the show and the bain of many jokes on the street too.  If someone came up to you and you didn’t understand what on God’s green earth they were saying, you’d simply answer, “Whatcha talkin’ about _____?” and pout just like Arnold Jackson, Gary’s character. 

At a time when the hit shows were more adult-focused, Different Strokes represented something for us kids.  I couldn’t wait until Saturday nights when I would watch two of my favorite shows – Different Strokes and The Facts of Life – back to back before it was time to go to bed.  Even in the summers when dusk came right around the same time as the shows began and I could be playing outside with my friends (back when you actually went “out to play with” your friends), I’d rather be inside seeing what shenanigans Willis (Todd Bridges) and Arnold got themselves into for the week’s episode.  Between their adoptive father (played by Conrad Bain) and his new housekeeper, Edna Garrett (brilliantly played by Charlotte Rae) or their adoptive sister, Kimberly (Dana Plato), Willis and Arnold were truly the center of the show and so much fun to watch! 

Who can forget scripted sequences like this:

Arnold Jackson: Be careful with my goldfish. His name’s Abraham.
Philip Drummond: I’ve never seen a black goldfish before.
Arnold Jackson: That’s okay. He never saw a rich white man before either.*

Different Stokes left me in stitches every time.  It was the show that I most looked forward to and for that I thank Gary Coleman and the rest of the cast for these memories.

Rest In Peace, Gary.  Rest in peace.

*courtesy of IMDB

Gary Coleman image courtesy of

Different Strokes cast photo courtesy of Soul Spectrum.


2 Responses to “Childhood Memories From Gary Coleman”
  1. thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    so much has changed.

    • lasullivan says:

      Either that or it’s just as we get older, we appreciate what we didn’t appreciate when we were younger…or both! 🙂

      Thanks for reading, sharing, & responding!

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