The ''Diff'rent Strokes'' star is returning to the public eye with TV commercials for Klondike bars and ESPN's Major League Baseball products

Hollywood’s next comeback kid is…Gary Coleman. Which brings to mind his own immortal words: ”Whatchoutalkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

The pint-size star, who has battled depression, suicidal thoughts, and kidney disease since Diff’rent Strokes went off the air in 1986, is now looking to return to the public eye, bigger than ever. Coleman has recently been seen on TV in commercials for Klondike bars and ESPN’s Major League Baseball broadcasts. Meanwhile, on the big screen, one of the heartier laughs in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery comes when Coleman is discovered frozen along with Mike Myers. And this fall, Coleman’s voice will be featured in the animated PC game The Curse of Monkey Island, a CD-ROM being developed by George Lucas’ software company. ”I always tell people I never really left,” says the now 29-year-old, who has denied tabloid reports he sold used cars in the early ’90s. ”I just took a long respite so that I could reinvent myself.”

Of course, a new incarnation is not what got Coleman his latest gigs. ESPN was aiming for ”a retro look and feel” for its ads, says network spokesman Rob Tobias. ”The [spots] have a Starsky and Hutch look, and he fits that era.” But the still-cherubic actor believes he can get past his ’80s-fixture status. ”People say, ‘We don’t see you as this or that,”’ says Coleman. ”Nonsense. I can be anything and anybody, given the opportunity.” Thus he’s developing two scripts (he’s the bad guy in both), plus a prime-time series and a live-action kids’ show. (No studios or networks are attached yet.)

As for his revival, Coleman attributes it to the cycle of fame. ”It’s like a volcano,” he says of his new popularity. ”It explodes. Then it’s dormant, and then it wells up again. Pretty soon, I’m gonna explode.”