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He was a funny guy, and a talented actor perfectly suited to that show and that time. His catch-phrase, “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” was, you know, a catch-phrase. It’s easy to make fun of it, and to snark about it, but try introducing a catch-phrase into the popular culture sometime and see how hard it is.
I never met Gary — but I always had a soft spot for him. Seven years ago, when he ran for governor of California in the famous recall election. If memory serves, he lost. To another, slightly taller, figure from Hollywood.
The week after the election, in my humor column, “The Long View” in National Review — which I can’t link to because they don’t put that magazine on the web — I fantasized about what might have happened after a Coleman upset:
Transcript, “The Today Show,” December 8th, 2003:
Katie Couric: “Do you just have to pinch yourself?”
Gary Coleman: “Every day, Katie. I mean, it really is incredible.”
Katie Couric: “Did you have any idea…any inkling of a what they’re calling the ‘late Coleman surge?’”
Gary Coleman: “No idea at all, Katie. None. I didn’t have much of a campaign budget, remember. So we had zero, really, for any kind of polling. The Field Poll showed us hovering in the low fives, high fours…”
Katie Couric: “Ahead of Angelyne and the Green Party, right?”
Gary Coleman: “Yeah. Right. Comfortably ahead of the Green Party, and within the margin of error with Angelyne, but then, Zogby came out the night before the election and showed us in the low teens, and I remember getting those numbers and just thinking, you know, ‘what choo talkin’ bout, Zogby?’ and just…”
Katie Couric: “But by the next day…”
Gary Coleman: “Yeah, the next day I’m on one of those little planes headed to Sacramento and…”
Katie Couric: “Were you nervous?”
Gary Coleman: “Freaked.”
Katie Couric: “But other things were going on in your life at the time, right?”
Gary Coleman: “Right.”
Katie Couric: “You have a new lady in your life, am I right?”
Gary Coleman: “Yeah. Yeah. You know, it’s strange, because ever since my show went off the air, it’s been, I don’t know, like, impossible to meet girls. And now, I’ve got to say, it’s really great to have a such a terrific lady to lean on. And she’s not just my girlfriend – my first real girlfriend, actually. I mean, she’s more than a lover. She’s an advisor. A partner. A counselor. She’s my everything.”
Katie Couric: “And she’s here with you today.”
Gary Coleman: “Yes, she is.”
Katie Couric: “Hi, Arianna.”
Arianna Huffington: “Hello, Katie. It’s wonderful to be here.”
Katie Couric: “So….I’ve got to say, this is an unlikely romance.”
Arianna Huffington: “You know, Katie, the truth is, it isn’t, really. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to expect that people of the same height tend to end up together.”
Katie Couric: “And when did you know that this was the guy for you?”
Arianna Huffington: “A few minutes after Fox/Opinion Dynamics released their exit poll results. I just thought to myself, who’s that hunk in the boy’s blazer?”
Katie Couric: “Wow. I imagine there have been a lot of compromises?”
Gary Coleman: “Yeah. Of course. Like in any relationship. I mean, when we go to parties thrown by Arianna’s friends, I have to wear a sign that says ‘I am not the parking valet.’”
Arianna Huffington: “And I was surprised to learn that the residuals from ‘Diff’rent Strokes” weren’t all that lucrative. But you know, Katie, love really does conquer all. He’s a wonderful man. A wonderful, dear, sexy little man.”
Katie Couric: “Sounds like the things that every couple goes through. We wish you the best.”
Not sure, at this point, that Coleman wasn’t a better choice.