Remembering Gary Coleman

I was a bit saddened tonight when I heard that Gary Coleman passed away today.

Like most Americans my age, I’ve had my fair share of laughs at Gary’s expense over the years. But, unlike most, I actually got to spend an evening with Gary at the close of the century, and it was quite unforgettable. (PS: Special shout-out to Paul Chan for making that whole event go down. Still appreciate it, buddy.)

There were two particularly sad moments that stick out.

First: he was clearly very sad. Not just that evening, but as a lifestyle choice. Thanksgiving was a couple days away, and I asked him what he’d be doing for the holiday. “What do I have to be thankful for?,” he asked. “I’m alone, my parents took all my money, and I’m stumping around on this tour to make ends meet.” The line wasn’t delivered with irony, or even anger… just more of a sad observation.

Anyone who knows my often-cheery self can imagine me trying to counter with what he had to be thankful for, as well as inviting him back to Omaha to have Thanksgiving with my family. It didn’t work, and his melancholy lurked as an undertone throughout the entire evening.

Second: he called me the day after we met up, asking if I’d build a website for his model train hobby-turned-business. I wasn’t there when he called, so all I had was his voicemail recording. (As I remember, I couldn’t catch the number to call him back.) I was mostly just shocked that he called me. We’d talked the night before, and he’d asked for my card. I’d just thought the whole thing was entertaining: Gary Coleman was asking me to build a website to sell his plans for model trains.

It occurred to me later that I was probably among the few people that appeared to have taken him seriously. (I did hand him my card and say, “Dude, definitely call me about that.”) But, of course, I hadn’t taken him seriously, and I didn’t call him back. I did see years later that he was still trying to get such an operation off the ground, and have had some small pains of guilt since for not responding seriously.

I’m thankful that I got to meet him, and I’m sorry to see that he passed.