Set Free

Gary Coleman scared the bejesus out of Brian Phelps one morning. The diminutive former child-star had gone along with my plan to hide inside a box at KLOS. As you can imagine, the stunt took a bit of planning. My wife had recently helped me rig a laundry bag full of ping-pong balls to drop on Captain Kangaroo during his visit to KLOS. I turned to her again to help me figure how to put Gary Coleman in a box.

The previous day, my wife and I had rummaged through our garage to find a moving box big enough to contain Gary. She then gift-wrapped it, leaving the flaps on one end unsealed. She put wrapping paper on the open flaps too. A bow went on the end opposite the opening. On the big day, I got a cart from the mail room and waited for Gary to arrive. He climbed onto the cart and I placed the box on its side next to him. As I flipped the box over him, Gary made sure the open flaps were tucked under him. From the outside, it looked like the entire box was sealed with wrapping paper.

On the occasion of Mark & Brian’s tenth anniversary at KLOS, I had booked Rockapella to sing live and “Good Day LA” to do a TV simulcast. While the cameras were on, I would wheel in the big surprise. Mark & Brian thought I was delivering their gift from station management. They started tearing open the paper on the top of the box and out popped Gary. For a moment, I really thought Brian was going to have a heart attack.

A couple of weeks later, Gary was one of the celebrities who showed up when Mark & Brian got their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I remember hanging out with him after the after-party as he waited for his ride.

The news of Gary’s death at age 42 saddened me and made me think of something my friend Bean said. He interviewed Gary many times over the years on KROQ. This past January, he wrote a troubling blog post predicting that Gary would not live to see 2011. Terry Morrow points out that one of Gary’s last public appearances was a year ago in Knoxville. I hope that in the next life, Gary finds the happiness that seemed to elude him in this world.

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