Todd Bridges: 'Talkin' 'Bout' Transformation

The star of "Diff'rent Strokes" on being abused a child, his years of drug addiction, and the media's negative portrayal of former child stars.

BY: Dena Ross


Continued from page 1

Do you think that for a lot of the former child stars in the media who have "fallen from grace" it is more than just a drug problem? Is it depression from going from being at the top of the game and popular to then not being in demand anymore?

No, because all the ones who were at the top of their game are [still] at the top of their game right now. Look at Robert Downey Jr., Christian Slater, Charlie Sheen, Drew Barrymore. Those people are working like crazy right now.

So, obviously, it wasn't that. It's other things. It's not having the love you need from the right kind of parents. It's going through a lot of things in your life at an early age that you would experience either way it went, whether you were famous or whether you were not famous.

People have got to realize, when we were out there using drugs and buying drugs, we weren't buying it from The Brady Bunch. You're buying it from everyday normal people. And there are people with those other kind of problems. You read the obituaries; you don't read about child stars dying every day, but you read about other people dying every single day. Have you ever heard of a child star going and shooting up a school? Of a child star going crazy and killing his friends? The only thing that we ever hurt is ourselves. I think that that's something that has to be told.

What advice do you have for others struggling with addiction?

If you're struggling with addiction you have to somehow find out how to stop. When you find out how to stop, you have to learn how to forgive yourself. That's why "Killing Willis" is important for people who are addicted and people who are not addicted, people who want to learn how to stay sober, people who want to learn how to get somebody off of drugs and alcohol.

There are all kind of addictions in America. And we seem to want to focus only on drug addiction. There are other addictions that are killing people just as fast. But it just seems like we always focus on the negative aspect of people's problems. We never focus in on the solution.

How do you expect someone to get help if all you're focusing on is the negative? "This guy has a drug problem, that guy has a drug problem." Why don't you help the guy solve his drug problem? Why don't you help him through it? Why are you making him torture himself more by the things that you're saying and the ridicule?

I think, not just Hollywood, but America is great on building people up and tearing them down. We love that. An ordinary person on the street could have had a really bad drug problem when he was a child, but no one would ever know. But, with [child stars], everybody knows because [the media] puts it out there so much.

I've got 17 years of sobriety, but people think I was sober [just] yesterday because the media has made it seem like that's all I've been doing is doing drugs for the last 17 years, and I've been sober for the last 17 years. I really think that the media does us an injustice.

You and Dana Plato, who played your sister on the show, had a very close relationship. How did her death affect you?

It affected me a great deal because she was a good friend of mine. I tried to get her to fight her addiction and to stand up for it. But, she told me three days before she died that "I don't have a problem like you do." The biggest [part of] our disease is denial. A lot of us will deny this disease until the end, until you die.

For a lot of people right now, the number one killer in America is prescription drugs. A lot of people are dying from prescription drugs, not just child stars. It's ordinary people--mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts. But [the media] doesn't focus in on that. They only focus in on the ex-child stars.

When Dana passed away, she had just done an interview with Howard Stern. A lot of people say that interview—the reactions and negative comments she received from listeners--might have pushed her over the edge.

The problem with her doing that show was she didn't tell the truth on that show. They asked her had she ever done cocaine, and I'm listening to the show, and she said no. And I'm thinking to myself, "Hmm, I did a lot of cocaine with her." She got on there and she tried to look great and not tell the truth and she got attacked by a lot of people because they knew she wasn't telling the truth, and she couldn't handle that.

It may have pushed over the edge, but then, she shouldn't have done the show. She wasn't ready to handle that. Don't get on a show like that and not tell the truth. I admit everything that I've done. I have learned to tell the truth—it doesn't matter what someone thinks about me. It matters what I think about myself. And that's the key to anybody being successful in this country. There are plenty of people who strive for perfection but are never going to find it. The only true perfection that's in this world was Jesus Christ, and if it wasn't for Him dying for us, we wouldn't be where we are today.

When He was lying upon the cross and that murderer next to him asked for forgiveness, Jesus gave it to him. You could be forgiven for anything. You just have to know how to go about it and God has to know your heart. He has to see what's inside of your heart.

You cannot get in front of people and not tell the truth when they're looking right at you and know the truth and you just denying it. It's like a guy who robs the bank with cameras on him and he goes, "That wasn't me."

On the show I do, "World's Dumbest Criminals," you get plenty of those guys saying, "That wasn't me," and the camera's looking right at them and it's their face. It's like, come on! How can you sit there and say it's not you? We're looking at you. We see you. Or the guy who's drunk out of his mind and driving his car and a police officer says, "How many drinks have you had?" "Oh, I've only had one." [Meanwhile] the guy can't even stand up. Just say, "I'm drunk, take me to jail." You might as well admit it.

Continued on page 3: Experiencing Racism »

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