The tragic death of former child actor Gary Coleman has been steeped in controversy, but his grieving parents said Friday they will not fight his will, which leaves nothing to them. They added that that they are not pointing any fingers at Coleman’s ex-wife in his death.
In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Friday, Sue and Willie Coleman were asked if they would fight the will, which leaves everything to one of his former managers, Dion Mial.
“Not at all,” Sue Coleman said. “Why would we? There’s enough going on. There’s enough disrespect toward him, and we would just not be a part of that.”
The will is being contested by Coleman’s companion and former wife, Shannon Price, who is also fighting for control of Coleman’s cremated remains. Coleman’s will instructs that his memorial be arranged by someone who has nothing to gain financially from him.
“I want all the talk to stop,” his mother said. “Gary’s gone. I want his body put away respectfully so that we all can bring some closure to this part of him … Let’s just put him away so that his spirit can just go on to where it’s going. He’s at rest, I know he is, and the rest of us need to bring some closure to it.”
Willie Coleman said that his son’s spirit cannot be at rest until he is properly buried.
“If they’re going to go ahead and take care of burying him, please by all means go ahead and do that because his soul is with Jesus, in the bosom of Jesus, there for eternity, but his spirit is not going to rest until he’s laid to rest,” he said.
Parents prepared for Coleman’s death
The Colemans were Gary’s adoptive parents. They said that because of Gary’s long-standing health problems, they had long prepared for the day when their son would die young.
The pint-sized actor was 42 years old when he died on May 28, two days after falling in his home and striking his head. He captured America’s heart with his run playing sharp-tongued Arnold Jackson on TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes” from 1978 to 1986.
His ex-wife Price has been front and center in a raging media storm ever since Coleman’s death, from her strange behavior in a 911 call reporting Gary’s accident to her decision to take Coleman off life support when he slipped into a coma. Now she has garnered more speculation after reportedly selling pictures of her former husband on his deathbed to the supermarket tabloid Globe.
Coleman’s parents seemed to care little about the controversy. Willie Coleman said that his son’s serious medical issues, including kidney failure and recent heart surgery, didn’t leave much hope for a long life.
“We aren’t pointing any fingers, we have never pointed any fingers at Shannon,” he told Vieira.
“It’s like this here: I figure that, OK, his body had come to the point where it had reached the pyramid of his sickness by having no kidneys. He was on dialysis; eventually that was going to lead to a shutdown. He had been on dialysis since he was 17 years old.”
The Colemans told Vieira they learned of their son’s death while visiting relatives in Arkansas, and were on their way back home to their native Illinois when Price left them a message a couple of days after the family had asked the local sheriff’s office to have her contact them.
“It was the strangest message I’ve ever heard in my life,” Willie Coleman told Vieira. “When someone is hurting like we were at that time, to leave a message, ‘Hi, this is Shannon Price. Thanks for your interest. If you need more information, my brother is handling the arrangements.’ ”
The Colemans have sought answers to how their son died — but told Vieira they are satisfied that the gossip that there might have been foul play on Price’s part in Coleman’s fatally cracking his head in the kitchen of his home is unfounded.
“I can’t say that we actually know everything,” Sue Coleman told Vieira, “but we got a report from the authorities in Utah that there was no foul play. That did make us feel a lot better.”
Coleman’s former manager Dion Mial has accused Price of selling photos of Coleman as he lay dying as part of an “ongoing desperate attempt” to draw attention to herself and profit from Coleman’s death, according to London’s Daily Mail. Speculation runs that Price was paid $10,000 for the photo that appears on the cover of the current issue of Globe.
While Sue Coleman said the cover photo “was disturbing,” she didn’t draw any conclusions about Price.
“I don’t know if that was her intention in the beginning when she took the pictures,” she told Vieira. “I don’t know if she was taking them for her own purpose and then later decided to do the sale of them, or if that was her intention in the first place.”
Losing their son twice
Sue Coleman said the last time she and her husband saw their adopted son was in 2000 or 2001 when he stopped by on his way to Colorado.
“As he was leaving, we said goodbye. We said, ‘I love you.’ He said, ‘I love you, too,’ ” she told Vieira when asked what were the last words they exchanged with him.
For most of Gary Coleman’s adult life, his parents were on the outside looking in. They had been estranged from their son since 1989, when Sue Coleman filed a court request to gain control of her son’s estimated $6 million fortune, insisting Gary was not able to handle his finances. Gary Coleman countersued and eventually won a $1.3 million settlement in court. The family rarely spoke again.
Vieira remarked that it was as if the parents lost their son twice.
“We did,” Willie Coleman replied. “We lost him first time when he turned 21, and from that point on, we very rarely heard from him. We mostly heard though someone else. The last time we lost him, he’s lost forever, until we cross over some day.”
Willie Coleman decried the chain of events that led to the family’s estrangement from their son, saying “outside influences” caused the split. He said the family had been taking young Coleman to a psychiatrist to deal with emotional issues, but once a Coleman handler began taking him there, they became a part of the discussion.
“All of the sudden ... the Colemans are no good and they stole his money and everything; they’re rotten parents, they force him to work and made him go to the set when he was sick,” Willie Coleman told Vieira.
“All of this is nonsense. All of this is untrue. Everything that has been said about us is untrue.”
Sue Coleman insisted that she and Willie never tried to take a dime off their son.
“We would have never have taken money from him — we weren’t raised that way,” she said. “The way we were raised, you just don’t do stuff like that, to family, to friends, or anybody.”