What Todd Bridges Is Talking About - Page 2

By Anna David 04/27/11

As the young star of the TV hit Diff’rent Strokes, Todd Bridges became a bona-fide pop culture icon. Now 45, the actor speaks out about his subsequent life as a crack dealer, his rocky road to sobriety, and why black celebrities can't escape their troubled past.

Sitcom Star Todd Bridges, Then and Now

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Are you sponsoring anyone now?

I had six sponsees at one point. But now I have none. I’m done. I can help people in other ways. I used to speak [be the main speaker in meetings] a lot. I don’t believe in you have to speak if you are asked—I don’t believe in that crap because I got burned out. I was speaking like every two weeks for like two or three years. It’s just so draining. I only give as much as I can. When you have kids, it’s a whole other ball game. You can’t come home totally drained because kids don’t understand that.

Do your kids know that you were a child star?

They know only because their friends know.

Why do you think so many child stars end up being addicts?

I think that's a myth. It’s a very small percentage, actually. So many people want to say it’s an overwhelming amount and it isn’t. For every child star you can name who’s an addict, I can name five who completely sober. The media misinterprets it because that’s how they sell papers: it’s the whole “Child Stars Gone Wrong” story. I’d say it’s one to two percent at the most. Now you know how many kids have drug problems? Way more. I would say more than 10 percent.

I don’t know about that. There’s Lindsay Lohan and—

And who else? Everyone gets a DUI. There’s that kid Haley Joel Osment—he had one incident and we haven’t heard from him since.

There are others. Demi Lovato and Taylor Momsen and—

Demi Lovato? Who is that? Those aren’t child stars. A child star is someone who, when you say their name, everyone knows who they are.

Do you still get recognized often?

Oh yeah, people come up to me all the time. But I don’t have to worry about getting stalked by sites like TMZ. They pop up sometimes but I don’t go to the places they hang out at. They always want a picture of somebody getting in trouble: somebody going out and getting massages with a happy ending or something. [Laughs]

Do you think there’s discrimination in recovery?

I think the big problem is that recovery isn’t offered to poor people in the inner cities. It’s just not designed for us. You can only go to rehab if you have lots of money. Otherwise you're probably gonna end up in jail. And that’s one of the biggest problems to me with drug addiction: we are putting thousands of addicted  people in jail, and that not going to help them a bit. All that does is create a pissed off addict. You got guys in there for drug addiction but they should be getting help. Because what you are doing is taking an addict and putting him on standby and eventually what’s going to happen to him when he gets out is that he’s going to go back to drugs. 

There's a growing AA movement in prison, isn't there?

Yeah, but most of  these guys who are locked up in jail don’t want to hear anything about recovery. They want to get out of their cell. When you are in jail, that's all you think about.

Is there anything you wish people knew more about addiction and recovery?

Unfortunately, I don't think that most people believe that  addiction is a disease. Insurance companies accept it and the doctors accept it but most people do not accept this yet. They say, “Why can't you just stop doing it? You know you shouldn’t be doing it.” You know if I had that choice, I wouldn’t have been in this position. When I used to do drugs with friends, some of them would go, “Oh God, this stuff is too strong—I’m done” whereas a true addict will say, “Whoa, that shit is real strong—can I have some more?” I mean, if addiction is not a disease, what the hell is wrong with Charlie Sheen? He was making two million dollars an episode and can’t get his shit together. You know how many people he could help if he cleaned up? But he’s so caught up in his addiction. I know the guy—I’ve met him before—and I think he would have a hard time staying sober because he can’t bottom out.

Do you think the media is harder on female stars than on male addicts?

I don’t know. I think they are tougher on minorities than they are on anybody. It’s like, I’ve been sober for 18 years but no one ever says it. It’s as if I got in trouble yesterday. But Robert Downey, Jr.—people are like, “Oh, he’s doing so great.” But if you look at my earlier work, I could be doing the same stuff he’s doing. I could do it now, but you have to put me in the position for me to be able to do that. My mother used to say, “If you are black, you can’t make any mistakes. If you do, they will torture you for the rest of your life with it.” I’m still considered a troubled ex-child star and I have 18 years of sobriety. I haven’t been in trouble for 16 years. When will they stop torturing me?

Anna David is Executive Editor of The Fix, and the author of a number of well-received books including Party Girl and Reality Matters. She interviewed Tom Sizemore for the The Fix last week.

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Anna David is the New York Times-bestselling author of multiple books about overcoming difficulties and coming out on the other side: the novels Party Girl (HarperCollins, 2007) and Bought (HarperCollins, 2009), the non-fiction books Reality Matters (HarperCollins, 2010), Falling for Me (HarperCollins, 2011), By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and True Tales of Lust and Love and the Kindle Singles Animal Attraction (Amazon, 2012) and They Like Me, They Really Like Me (Amazon, 2013). Find Anna on LinkedIn and Twitter.