(Note: The title of this entry should really be “The Child Actor Who Would Have Been King,” but I decided to err on the side of non-anal-retentiveness for a change.)
One of the most devastating losses I’ve thus far suffered in my largely uneventful life is the passing of Sir Gary Coleman. He was, alas, an excellent thespian, even if he did peak a little earlier than most of us, which I guess allowed him to rationalize–whether purposely or not–the tragic luxury of a premature farewell.
I’m old enough to have lived through Colemania, and brave enough to have stayed up late enough to watch “Different Strokes” with my family, intrepidly ensconced in our comfortable living room furniture before the predictable spectacle of that exceptional sitcom, whose plots were as forgettable as the rest of my childhood, so much of which was wasted either on school or ingesting electronic excrement fired from the television set’s insatiably loquacious face.
But Gary was the first African-American friend I ever had (excluding the Jackson Five and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, who after all were mere cartoons). He was cute enough to captivate the nation, even more adorable than George W. Bush ad-libbing a gaffe at a press conference.
That’s why I wish he had lived long enough to play King Lear, a challenge for any serious actor, let alone a cherubic comic superstar like Gary (see? We’re even on a first-name basis).
Imagine Gary Coleman in Act I, Scene II of King Lear, as the implacable, doddering monarch, demanding a heartfelt declaration of love from his three daughters, two of whom (Regan and Goneril) are duplicitous enough to speak with unctuous abandon, humoring the old man with the requisite flattery needed to wrest from him his kingdom, their proclamations of affection as glibly bogus as a presidential candidate’s fulsome campaign promises jettisoned a few hours before the ever-so-earnest ritual of the inauguration rites.
Meanwhile, Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, the one he loves the most, and the only one who loves him, is unwilling to play his silly game, and isn’t afraid to tell the poor man so:
“I love your majesty
According to my bond, nor more nor less.”
Then, instead of replying as Shakespeare intended, with Lear’s incredulous:
“How, how, Cordelia? Mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes,”
our esteemed hero replies, with a furrowed brow and deep but cuddly suspicion in his eyes:
“Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Cordelia?”