06/02/2010 at 11:50 AM EDT
Gary Coleman never had an easy road.
Adopted at just one day old and diagnosed with an atrophied kidney as a toddler, the 4'8" Diff'rent Strokes
star – who died at age 42
on May 28 after suffering a brain hemorrhage – constantly struggled to make peace with his faded fame, his failing health and his family pain
, friends tell PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.
"I'd been dreading [losing him] for years," says Shavar Ross, who played Coleman’s best friend Dudley on Diff'rent Strokes,
one of many ex-costars whom Coleman cut off in the early '90s as he sought to distance himself from his child stardom.
"With some former child stars, there's a real psychological hurdle trying to stay relevant. And that happened to Gary," adds Ross. "And he had those other things to deal with: his height, his health, being adopted. It caused a lot of frustration for him."
The actor's 2007 marriage
to Shannon Price, 24, brought its own problems.
"They both had pretty explosive personalities," says Randy Kester, Coleman’s Utah-based attorney. "There were incidences of domestic violence on both sides. They had plenty of verbal fights, which did escalate to physical confrontations."
For more on this story, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday