A few weeks back, my editor Tasha Robinson plunked a book down on my desk and said, “When I saw the title, I thought you might want this.” The tome in question was Killing Willis: From Diff’rent Strokes To The Mean Streets To The Life I Always Wanted. It’s Todd Bridges’ sordid exposé of how he went from teen idol to small-time crack kingpin/crack-whore enthusiast to guy who feels kind of bad about having been a small-time crack kingpin/crack-whore enthusiast. Tasha was right, of course. Some people are put on Earth to help young people, inspire future generations, or cure diseases. I was put on Earth to write about sleazy tell-alls from disgraced former sitcom stars.
When I saw the title, I chuckled. “Jeez, they could have just called it That’s What I’m Talking About, Arnold,” I thought. Then I turned the book over and saw the words “What he was really talking about was survival” on the back cover in a giant font. There was no way I was not going to read this book.
As is so often the case, child stardom proved a blessing and a curse for Bridges. He was gifted with an endlessly supportive mother and a drunken, abusive father who resented his son’s success and never missed an opportunity to denigrate his accomplishments. Bridges’ enormous success as a black teen idol brought him to the attention of hordes of screaming, hormone-addled female fans and a harassment-happy L.A.P.D.
Bridges’ role on a long-running hit sitcom brought a seemingly ideal father figure into his life in the form of his sharp-dressed, warm, funny, charismatic publicist. That publicist then molested him, causing Bridges to question his sexuality: On one level, he was horrified by a grown man going down on him, but he also liked the way oral sex felt.
Thankfully, Diff’rent Strokes co-star/fellow walking punchline Dana Plato cleared up any lingering doubts about Bridges’ sexuality when she gave him his first heterosexual blowjob when he was 12 and she was 13. Bridges and Plato remained lovers, drug buddies, and occasional threesome partners for much of the show’s run.
Yes, Bridges had it all before Diff’rent Strokes was yanked off the air after a mere eight seasons. Apparently the fact that adorable child star Gary Coleman used a walker and hearing aid in the seventh and eighth seasons was considered an ill omen.
Bridges was living the high life, literally, shagging scores of groupies, tooling around in a sports car with a vanity plate, and being fêted like a minor deity in all the hippest nightclubs. Then a slithering snake appeared in Bridges’ adolescent Eden when he uncovered a giant bag of cocaine buried underneath the floor of a house he purchased, which used to belong to a big-time drug dealer.
It seems awfully suspicious that a man content to merely drink and smoke pot just magically happened upon a giant bag of cocaine, but no one can deny that this discovery sent Bridges’ personal and professional life into a tailspin, especially after he discovered the wonders of crack cocaine.
Early into Bridges’ stint as a crackhead, a friend named Lewis introduced him to a man who would change his life, a charmingly psychotic drug dealer nicknamed Billy The Kid. At first, Bridges’ relationship with his crack-dealing mentor was as cordial and delightful as can be, but before long, a pleasant, relaxing night of smoking crack with Billy The Kid, Lewis, Lewis’ girlfriend, and two of Billy The Kid’s crack whores, Dita and Tracy, took a dark turn:
“Unass my money, bitch,” Billy ordered again. He cocked his gun, reached into the bedroom closet, and pulled out an aluminum Little League bat.
‘Y’all take off all your clothes,’ he said.
Lewis’ girlfriend, Melody, had been watching all of this, her eyes huge.
‘Billy, he made me skim some rocks off you,’ Melody said quickly. ‘But it was only four at most.’
‘Youse a lie, you bitch!’ Lewis said, shaking his bloody head in disgust.
‘Quiet, both of you!’ Billy demanded, pointing his Ruger at them.
‘I knew it was Mr. Lewis Biggarettes, stealing from me,’ he said. ‘Mr. Lewis, peep this, if you want your debt forgiven, take this bat and stick it up in you.’
Lewis’s eyes got so wide, they looked like they might pop. They traveled between the bat and Billy, a pleading expression on his face.
‘Now!’ he said, pointing his gun at Lewis’s head.
‘And for your thieving, fat-ass girlfriend, I want her to eat out Dita and Tracy.’”
A grim situation to be sure, but not without its lighter moments, as when Bridges recounts: “Lewis had the bat partly in when, oddly, he made a joke. ‘Hey, dude, got any lube?’” I’m not sure that was a joke so much as a desperate plea for help.
Ha ha! Good times, good times! Billy The Kid might have been the kind of guy who forces a flunky to sodomize himself with an aluminum bat, and make the flunky’s girlfriend perform cunnilingus on his crack whores, but he had a code of honor; he grew apoplectic, for example, when one of his crack whores put a glass down on Bridges’ nice table without using a coaster first. Seriously. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
I’d imagine a lot of junkies would be scared straight by such a horrifying experience, but all this instilled in Bridges a passionate desire to get close to Billy The Kid and learn the tricks of the crack trade. So Bridges became Billy The Kid’s left-hand man and all-around sidekick. When Billy went to jail, Bridges took over his operation, running a number of crack houses, getting women strung out on crack so he could fuck them, and dealing with the many headaches and inconveniences that come with running a successful crack-dealing organization.
Bridges repeatedly states that the great thing about getting women strung out on crack is that they’ll do anything, sexually, to get that next fix. Anything. He reiterates this point so often that it becomes impossible not to imagine all the sick, depraved shit Bridges got crack whores to do in exchange for a few sweet pulls on the glass dick. Obviously, closed-eyed missionary position, solely-for-the-sake-of-procreation sex wasn’t enough for him or his crack-addled stable of lovelies. So what was Willis into? Reverse kickstand? Upside-Down Pineapple-Cake Clusterfuck? The Pearl Bailey Surprise? The Underwater Toboggan? Anal sex? Threesomes? Bondage? Humiliation? Bridges never specifies exactly what kind of kinky shit he was/is into, but he does helpfully inform young, impressionable readers that access to crack will let you enjoy hours upon hours of mind-blowing, depraved, ecstatic sex with gorgeous women who will do anything to please you.
In spite of his wholesome lifestyle and Billy The Kid’s invaluable coaching, our intrepid hero/wannabe Iceberg Slim ended up in jail repeatedly, most notably for an attempted murder charge that Bridges assures us was total groundless bullshit. In prison, Bridges was literally placed in a murderers’ row. His neighbors included Eddie Nash, the mastermind behind the infamous Wonderland murders; Lyle Menendez; and Night Stalker Richard Ramirez. Bridges thought Nash was a good egg, but for some reason, serial killer Ramirez creeped him out. Also, Menendez wore a toupee.
Eventually, Bridges was released, at which point he went back to selling and using crack. He was in and out of rehab six times before the treatment finally took. By that point, he’d added crystal-meth addict/dealer to his overflowing criminal résumé. With Bridges, everything comes down to sex; hardly a page goes by without an account of his hot sex with a series of interchangeable partners/crack whores. Sure enough, a gorgeous young woman got him hooked on meth; he liked it so much, he came the first time he shot up.
Bridges zealously nurses grudges. He seems to think racism was all that kept him from becoming a giant movie star. Racism undoubtedly played a role in his downfall, but I’m going to get all law-and-order here and argue that his constant prison and rehab stints for selling crack and meth and operating a stable of crack whores may have played a slightly bigger role in his professional slump. He bitches that the industry embraced Robert Downey Jr. even after all his high-profile drug problems, while Bridges was shunned instead. But again, I’m going to go out on a limb and postulate that this might have something to do with Downey Jr. being a brilliant, beloved actor with a long and distinguished career, and not just the guy who played Willis on that one show.
Bridges sometimes flirts with taking responsibility for his actions, but he inevitably couches his fall in the touchy-feely vernacular of therapy and 12-step programs. Apparently, he just needed to love and forgive himself in order to move beyond his nightmare cycle of addiction and self-destruction. I’m sure all the people who overdosed after Bridges got them hooked on crack are happy that Bridges is in a good place emotionally, and intent on helping humanity through his heartwarming tale of sex with crack whores.
Throughout the book, Bridges complains that the media always focused on his arrests, drug addiction, and horrible crimes instead of the few times he wasn’t getting arrested, addicted to drugs, or committing horrible crimes. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal who thinks all soft drugs should be legalized, beginning with marijuana. But when a man gets a string of vulnerable young women addicted to crack so he can fuck them and make them sell drugs for him, he gives up the right to complain about bad press. That’s a little like me complaining that people obsess about all the times I beat up prostitutes in a drunken rage, and not how I wake up sober in the drunk tank three days later. Doesn’t my temporary sobriety count for anything?
Bridges’ limply ghostwritten memoir is engaging on a surface level: It’s so unrelentingly sleazy, I wanted to take a shower after reading it. It delivers the tell-all goods and then some: Think E! True Hollywood Story by way of pulp cult writer Donald Goines. But Bridges’ redemptive arc rings false. He’s unrelentingly candid about his debauched lows, but mostly, the once and future Willis is talking a whole bunch of self-pitying, self-aggrandizing bullshit.