SALT LAKE CITY - The estranged parents of former child TV star Gary Coleman are seeking custody of his body and want it returned to the star's boyhood home in Illinois, his former manager said yesterday.
Coleman died last Friday in Utah from a brain hemorrhage at age 42.
His former manager and family spokesman Victor Perillo said that Coleman's parents, Sue and Willie Coleman, are the legal custodians of his body because Coleman was divorced from his wife, Shannon Price, in 2008. It was Price who ordered that Gary Coleman be taken off life support.
Utah Valley Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Janet Frank said that Price was named in an advanced health-care directive that allowed her to make health-care decisions for Gary Coleman when he couldn't make them for himself.
His parents have said that they learned about his hospitalization and death from media reports, and that they had wanted to reconcile with their son before his death.
In 1989, when Gary Coleman was 21, his mother filed a court request trying to gain control of her son's $6 million fortune, saying that he was incapable of handling his affairs. The move "obviously stems from her frustration at not being able to control my life," he said.
Perillo helped launch Gary Coleman's career from Chicago around 1977 and worked with him for 15 years. Gary Coleman is originally from Zion, Ill., a small town about 50 miles north of Chicago, near the Wisconsin border. Perillo said that his parents have discussed having a small, private ceremony and that his body could be returned to Illinois as soon as today.
"The arrangement we're working on now is to get Gary back to his next of kin, which is his parents," Perillo said in a telephone interview from British Columbia. "The funeral home has been notified, the sheriff's office, we've notified them that there is to be no communication on where the body is to go unless its dealt with legally with Gary's next of kin, and that's the way it stands right now."
It's unclear whether Price and Gary Coleman ever remarried after their divorce.
On the 9-1-1 call from May 26, the day the actor apparently had a seizure or hit his head and fell, Price refers to Gary Coleman as her husband.
She can be heard asking a Utah emergency dispatcher to send help for him because he was bleeding from the back of his head and "bubbling at the mouth" after falling at their Santaquin home, about 65 miles south of Salt Lake City
"I just don't want him to die," Price said in the call. "I'm freaking out like really bad."
Gary Coleman was conscious at the hospital the day of the 9-1-1 call but slipped into unconsciousness the next day and was taken off life support last Friday with family at his side.
In an interview on celebrity Web site TMZ, Price said that she chose to take him off life support because doctors had told her that even if they had done surgery he would have died or never been the same.
"I don't want people to be so hard on me, thinking that I had to pull the plug too early," she said. "He wouldn't have made it anyway. His heart would have just given out. But, you know, be in my situation. I mean look what happened with Terri Schiavo. I always think of her case - always when it comes to this.
"I mean Gary was gone. His eyes were dilated. He wasn't . . . he was just gone."
Police records show that Gary Coleman and Price had a tumultuous relationship from the very beginning of their courtship, which started when they met on the set of the 2006 comedy "Church Ball."
In January 2007, he called police because he was worried that she was going to bring her three brothers to confront him following an argument. Then, in July of that year, he exploded at Price in a clinic parking lot in Provo, for which he was charged with disorderly conduct and eventually placed on probation.
One month later, Gary Coleman whisked Price to a Nevada mountaintop to wed.
By August 2008, the two had divorced.