The lives of the cast of the classic sitcom Diff’rent Strokes have had a resurgence in recent months courtesy of the live reimaging of the show on ABC. Gary Coleman was a standout in the series, coining the iconic phrase, “What you talkin’ bout Willis?” But his life, and his finances, took a turn for the worst after the show’s end. 

Subscribe to Opening Act.

Gary Coleman made million on the popular sitcom

The show aired for eight seasons. At its peak, Coleman earned an estimated $100k per episode, which resulted in an annual season salary of about $2.5 million. But once the season was over, Coleman discovered he had little money to show for it. 

REELZ’s new docuseries, The Price of Fame: Diff’rent Strokes, analyzes Coleman’s life in the spotlight and how fame turned his life upside down at certain points. “Gary should have never had to work ever again. No one around Gary should have had to work ever again,” says Diff’rent Strokes biographer Greg Pincus in the show. “Coleman had a multi-million-dollar TV fortune that seemingly vanished into thin air according to Gary and family friend Dion Mial,” added radio host Kellie Rasberry.

He ultimately sued his parents for mismanagement of his funds

Upon investigating, Coleman determined that his parents and business manager mishandled his money. But Mial was also Coleman’s manager and Coleman’s parents alleged Mial brainwashed the actor against them. Mail claimed he was concerned for Coleman and was only looking out for him.

Coleman took them to court. The legal battle lasted four years. Coleman and his parents later settled a separate case, which included their attempt to place Coleman under guardianship to protect his health and finances as Coleman suffered from a kidney ailment that stunted his growth.

At the time of Coleman’s death in 2010, he remained estranged from his parents. “When Gary turned 18 years old, you know how you do a horse?” his father Willie told Joy Behar in 2010. “We were put out to pasture.”

Per Willie, Gary told him: “I just feel that you were holding me in prison.” His mother said the words hurt but she understood, adding, “He wanted to be his own man, do things his own way, so we tried to encourage him the best we could, we tried to guide him as much as we could, but it was his life.”