Shannon Price, ex-wife of the forlorn child star Gary Coleman, has broken even the most basic rules of human decency, selling pictures of Coleman on his death bed to British rag the Globe for a reported $10,000.
In a tragic beginning that mirrored his on-screen character Arnold Jackson, Gary Coleman was a real-life child adoptee as well. Unlike his character, Coleman had no Mr. Drummond or Mrs. Garrett to rescue him into a life of love and luxury. Instead, the people who were supposed to love him the most, W.G. and Edmonia Sue Coleman, Gary's adoptive parents, were the very people they were supposed to protect him from. They were the first of many who would exploit the child star for personal gain with no concern of his own wellbeing.
By the time Coleman was 21, he'd amassed an estimated fortune in the neighborhood of $3.8 million, all of which had been hopelessly squandered by his adoptive parents. Coleman would later sue them but never recover the full amount that he'd earned.
Trapped in the limbo of fame and anonymity, Coleman was too famous to have a normal life and too typecast to reap the fortunes of that fame. The irony was that his fame was based on a "Daddy Warbucks to the rescue" storyline that simply never manifested itself in the real life of the child who portrayed it.
Sunken from the heights of glory to the depths of a menial existence, barraged by fans seeking autographs nonetheless, the pouty grin of Arnold Jackson became the angry glare of Gary Coleman, a seemingly endless cycle in one man's life, at times too much to bear (Coleman attempted suicide on many occasions). Coleman passed his days playing with toy trains, the one joy he found in life. One can only wonder if there was any symbolism attached to the attraction.
In 2004, Coleman made an appearance on MTV's "The Surreal Life," which put has-been Hollywood celebs in everyday situations to see how they would cope. Tammy Faye Bakker, Eric Estrada and Vanilla Ice were among the stars who appeared with Coleman in that episode.
During the filming, the cast asked Coleman to utter his infamous line, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?!" When Coleman refused to say it, Vanilla Ice hoisted the man over his shoulder, more like a bag of potatoes than a human being, and held Coleman's head above a vat of boiling grease until he relented and said it. (I will never forget the horror I experienced watching that episode -- the last episode I ever watched.)
Coleman engaged in a tumultuous and often violent marriage of convenience with Shannon Price, who would secretly divorce him in 2008, but would remain his legal representative and roommate until his death in 2010.
There was much speculation (due to the violent history between them) whether Coleman's ultimately fatal fall was accidental or induced by a shove, or if he even fell at all, but was rather hit in the head.
The injury was officially attributed to his having been fatigued due to excruciating and exhausting dialysis treatments at a hospital earlier that day. In her 911 call, Price reportedly said she couldn't be bothered with him because she didn't feel well.
There was also much controversy about whether Price had the right to take Coleman off of life support, which she did, given that they were legally divorced. The hospital maintains that if Coleman changed his wishes, he never made it known to them; therefore, hospital staff were bound by the last paperwork he'd signed, which left Price as the representative.
Then, in an unpredictable quirk of fate, Coleman's adoptive parents, from whom he'd been estranged since before the legal settlement, refused to allow Gary to be put to rest, demanding that his remains be returned to them to bury. However, that request was halted when a former attorney of Coleman cited Gary's will, which specifically stated his wishes that only those who loved him in life should share in his death and be present at his funeral.
One can only wonder who, if anyone, truly had the right to be there on that day....
Price had Gary cremated and spread his ashes along train tracks, reportedly saying, "I think Gary would have appreciated me for doing that since he loved trains so much."
Then came the deathbed photos, which reportedly were offered to TMZ (whic promptly refused) for a price, and which now appear on the cover of the Globe. The horrid photo depicts Price purposefully posing in front of Coleman, who is hooked up to tubes and machines, remnants of life fading from him. Even in death it seems that Gary's soul was sold by others for profit.
Being the adopted and abused child of a Social Security scam myself, having been tossed to the wayside when it became inconvenient and no longer profitable (left to spend my youth in group homes), and then being tossed aside yet again when I aged out and was told, "Figure it out for yourself," perhaps I take this story a bit more personally than others because of the relevant factors involved. It's impossible to be expected to be normal, when nothing has ever been normal in your entire life, yet the culprits who foisted this abnormality upon you, who ignited this sequence of events, are exonerated, and you are left to deal with the repercussions alone.
I see the anger in Gary's eyes and the fiery blood of his rage pulsates in my veins, but you dare not strike out because society holds you accountable if you do, and the cycle continues as your own sins pile up, multiplying the damage exponentially. You are expected to somehow be able to relate to them while they simply tell you in a matter-of-fact tone, "Get over it." They refuse to relate to you and wouldn't know how even if they tried. Through no fault of your own, you are doomed to lead a solitary existence and helpless but to battle the demons in your sleep. So you find "acceptable" causes to voice the displaced rage that burns deep within your bowels; none is sufficient.
There are mentors along the way, but even they cannot understand why you can't grasp what seems to them to be the simplest of concepts. You are an alien on your own planet, often misjudged and grossly misunderstood.
Even I cannot imagine what we as a society, as a people, have become to thrive on tabloids that would display the deathbed photos of an already tragic and poignant life.
Then, I see this artist's apropos depiction of Gary on Flickr, and hope that if he gets an answer, he will somehow come back and share it with the rest of us....