I was quite affected when I heard of the recent death of Gary Coleman. Initially, this was because I thought it was Gary Cole who had died, as I’ve always had to stop and take a second to determine exactly who was being discussed whenever either of their names was mentioned. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that while usually when any entertainer dies, it seems that everyone suddenly feels a whole new appreciation for the dead person and their work, the response to Coleman’s passing has been muted, with even Ashton Kutcher exercising restraint in his Tweeting. And, I have to say, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that Coleman’s demise didn’t make ‘Fond Farewell’ in the Herald Sun’s ‘Play’ supplement and that of Brittany Murphy’s widower, Simon Monjack (or ‘Con-jack’, as I believe he was known), did!
Now, I don’t think anyone could deny that Gary Coleman had a very rough trot. Aside from having suffered from kidney disease and having to sue his parents for embezzling him, he was in the bizarre situation that, whereas usually when you look at a child star in adulthood it’s hard to imagine you’re looking at the same person, the middle-aged Coleman, due to his illness, looked almost exactly the same as he did as sassy boy child Arnold on Diff’rent Strokes.
But while his tragedies would have won almost anyone else virtually limitless understanding, Coleman, with his famously prickly personality, kept having maximally unsympathetic run-ins with the law. There was the time he was charged with assault for punching a woman who had requested his autograph while he was shopping for a bullet-proof vest; the time he was charged with punching a man and running him over in his truck; and the time he was arrested, only this year, on domestic violence charges. On the other hand, I have a certain amount of respect for the way in which he made so little effort to seem like a personable and kindly fellow. When Coleman was once asked about the, almost ludicrously, large numbers of misfortunes that had been befalling his young Diff’rent Strokes costars, Dana Plato and Todd Bridges, he was quoted as saying, ‘Their problems are not my problems. I hate it when people make their problems my problems. They do whatever the hell they want. If they want to screw up their lives, that’s their business.’
The well-documented tribulations of Plato and Bridges, also involving premature death and run-ins with the law, I needn’t go into here. On a happier note, Bridges at least seems to have made something of a return to the limelight, having defeated Vanilla Ice on Celebrity Boxing. Recently, he also appeared in a film called See Dick Run, about a fast-talking ladies man, Rich Jones, who awakens one morning to find himself without his penis. Rich is told that this is the result of a curse placed on him by an old flame and that if he doesn’t find the vengeful female in question, and his penis, before midnight, the hex will be irreversible. Bridges has third billing, as a character by the name of ATM. On the IMDb, ‘redbeard 86’ acknowledges that, while usually ‘the average person’ is sceptical about a straight-to-DVD release, any such apprehension can be laid to rest in the case of See Dick Run: ‘It is knee slappin just about to pee on yourself funny’.
Now, all this talk of curses leads me to the fact that Coleman’s death is the latest chapter in the alleged ‘Curse of Diff’rent Strokes’, which has been examined periodically for a long time now; essentially, whenever one of the Strokes three got into the news, which was virtually continuously after the show ended in 1986. A 1998 E!Online report, for example, promised to leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of things curse-wise, considering that they’d talked to Robert Giordano, producer of the ‘would-be steamy erotica flick, Different Strokes, featuring an oft-topless Plato’. In E!’s story, he theorises: ‘There’s something going on. It’s just amazing.’
There are, of course, a whole load of such curses on those involved in show business. The first one of which I ever heard was the ‘Curse of Gone with the Wind’, when I read about it in a most excellent paperback book that belonged to my grandmother. This book was called The Grabbers and was devoted to the creepiest and most venal side of Hollywood: for example, the many unpleasant aspects of Jerry Lewis’s personality; and everything that Al Jolson did to wind up so richly deserving his title of ‘The Most Hated Man in Show Business’. In The Grabbers, a chapter is devoted to the alleged blight on ‘GWTW’, which was how the author himself condensed the title. He discussed at length the way in which GWTW cast its ‘long, sinister shadow’: namely, that quite a lot of people (out of an enormous cast and crew) who had an involvement with this beloved movie classic met a melancholy end. Among them was George Reeves, who, of course, may have been unique in having laboured under two curses. He had to contend with not just the GWTW one but also ‘The Curse of Superman’s Cape’, making it a miracle that he even managed to live to his mid forties.
My favourite such curse, though, is probably the ‘Curse of Hello!’ whereby, of course, an astonishingly high proportion of celebrity couples who pose for lavish pictorials for the glossy magazine split up shortly after having done so. Among them are Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith (the Mail Online noting that this was ‘a fairytale in which a not-so-innocent princess married a scrawny old ogre’). I’ve been waiting since 1992 for the curse to catch up with David Bowie and Iman, but Bowie, with his customary, seemingly supernatural, good fortune, has so far eluded it year after year. This is even though the Hello! coverage observed that during the service, ‘David was on the verge of tears and Iman looked as if she might faint’, and David’s old mum apparently insisted on having her photograph taken with fellow wedding guest Bono.
Now, the thing is, I am a highly superstitious person, who is only too happy to entertain the idea of curses. The problem is, though, that if you search for the ‘Curse of Diff’rent Strokes’ on the Internet, you get a very long list of things to read but none of them supply the main bit of knowledge that I am craving; that is, the answer to the question of who is actually doing the cursing. It’s my understanding that, exactly as in See Dick Run, a curse has to be placed by someone – someone along the lines of a witchdoctor or a pharaoh, ideally, but even a regular human can give it a try. Californian Baptist pastor Wiley Drake openly admits to praying for the death of President Obama, and has also used his best efforts to hex employees of the Internal Revenue Service. Unsporting of him though this is, you can at least see a kind of twisted logic in it, given his political views. What entity, though, has been placing show business curses? And why is the entity so selective? Why Diff’rent Strokes and not The Facts of Life?
And why are there no such curses in the annals of Australian show business? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I have the faintest desire to see blameless individuals struck down in the ‘Curse of Taurus Rising’, it’s just that I don’t understand why our entertainment industry has been spared. I would certainly have thought a spooky flick like Harlequin – which is essentially about Rasputin, had Rasputin been a magician called Gregory Wolfe who was plying his trade in Perth in 1980 – would have invited a curse but it was not to be. Still, I don’t want by such speculation to bring on the ‘Curse of The Scrivener’s Fancy’, which, in my case, might involve, say, being forced to watch Oliver Stone’s The Doors again.