"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Kid From Left Field

Randy Winn has been DFA’d as Curtis Granderson rejoins the team. It was for the best. Seems like a nice guy, like he’s cousins with Bernie Williams or something, but he couldn’t catch up with a good fastball. It was time to go.

On a more somber note, Gary Coleman passed away today. He was 42.

I was a huge fan of Diff’rent Strokes when I was growing up. Coleman was a major comic influence, right up there with JJ from Good Times. Reggie was a guest star on Diff’rent Strokes and so was Ali, who helped Arnold deal with a bully named the Gooch. Along with Steve Martin’s “Wild and Crazy Guy” bit, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Willis?” was a seminal catch phrase, the can’t-miss-sure-to-make-you-laugh-schtick. The rasberry. The verbal banana peel. He delivered it well.

My sister and brother loved it, kids at school loved it. The beauty part was that we waited all week for him to say it and so did he. My favorite part was how Coleman sometimes looked like he was going to break character and crack up, because it was that funny. Just like they used to crack up on the Carol Burnett  Show.

I visited my grandparents in Belgium for the summer when I was twelve. Summer of ’83. I was starved for the English language. They had Happy Days and Starsky and Hutch on TV but they were dubbed into French. Fortunately, a Belgian TV station played what they called ¬†Arnold in English with Flemish subtitles. It was life-saving.

Colman was like Spanky McFarland from the Our Gang comedies–irrepressibly great when he was young. Completely charming. Effortless.

As they got older, the freshness wore off and they weren’t as natural or cute. They became self-aware, polished. The downside of child acting–washed-up at fourteen. Still, Coleman hit the high notes plenty of times and set the bar for child stars in the Eighties. Few of them could touch Coleman at his best.

R.I.P.

4 comments

1 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 28, 2010 6:52 pm

Very nice, Alex.
Yeah, the gootch!
Weird that last summer it was MJ and now Gary Coleman. Hard to find two more emblematically 1980s figures.
Who's next, Madonna?

2 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  May 28, 2010 7:21 pm

Jesus..is this what it feels like when major pieces of your childhood pass on?? It's terrible...I don't know that our kids will share such experiences, too much media these days. My nieces were shocked when I told them how we had 5 tv channels growing up, so every kid in the country watched the same shows..

3 Jehosephat   ~  May 28, 2010 8:02 pm

Your remembrance of how Coleman's catch phrase is a nice juxtaposition to the piece on Gary Coleman over at Salon.com .

4 Chyll Will   ~  May 28, 2010 8:08 pm

(2) Yes. It hurts for a day or three, then it's gone. All that's left is the memory, disconnected like a long-unused appliance that you're too attached with to throw out.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver