Who is Todd Bridges?
Todd Anthony Bridges is an American actor and comedian, best known for his role as Willis Jackson in the hit TV sitcom ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ that he portrayed for eight years. He entered the entertainment industry when he was just a four-year-old, appearing as a model for a magazine ad. When he was nine, he made his acting debut in a commercial with his family. The brief role led to more acting assignments, including his appearance on the TV show ‘Barney Miller’ and a role in the movie ‘Katherine’. However, like many other child actors, he too ran into trouble with the law as a youngster. He became involved with drugs and firearms as a young man which affected his career as well. Although rehab helped him kick his substance abuse problems, it didn't help him control his violent tendencies. However, life changed for him when he turned to Christianity, and founded the Todd Bridges Youth Foundation, a non-profit youth body in Los Angeles that provides sports, computer training, and acting courses for children. Soon he saw resurgence in his acting career. He then wrote a book called ‘Killing Willis’, and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss his acting career, drug addiction, and trouble with law.
Childhood & Early Life
Todd Bridges was born on May 27, 1965 in San Francisco, California, to Betty Alice Pryor and James Bridges, Sr. While his mother is an actress, director, and manager, his father is a talent agent. His siblings Jimmy and Verda are also in the acting profession.
At the age of four, he got his first modeling job posing for a magazine ad. When he was nine, he did a Jell-O commercial with his family. The gig led to more acting work for him.
His parents’ divorce in 1982 hit him hard. To make matters worse, he was terrorized by white supremacists in his neighborhood in 1983. He faced sniper shots, and his car was stolen and set on fire. Frightened by the assault, he started carrying a gun. One day he was pulled over by police for a traffic violation, and was charged with carrying a loaded, concealed weapon. He had to pay a $240 fine for the offense.
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Todd Bridges was featured in ‘The Waltons’, an American television series developed by Earl Hamner, Jr. based on his book ‘Spencer's Mountain.’ He also appeared in ‘Little House on the Prairie’, a drama television series about a family living on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota in the 1870s and 1880s. It was based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling series of ‘Little House’ books.
He was cast in ‘Roots’, an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel ‘Roots: The Saga of an American Family’. The series aired on ABC-TV in January 1977.
He was a regular on ‘Fish’, an American sitcom and a spin-off of ‘Barney Miller’ that aired on ABC from February 1977 to May 1978. Todd played a streetwise jokester named Loomis.
His performance in ‘Fish’ caught the attention of producer Norman Lear, who cast 12-year-old Todd in a starring role in the comedy show, ‘Diff'rent Strokes’. It proved to be his big break which changed his life and career. He played an orphan taken in by a wealthy white businessman. Todd then became a heartthrob and a household name. By the age of 18, he was wealthy enough to own a house of his own in Los Angeles.
In the 1980s, he appeared in a few music videos as well. In 1984, he appeared in Penny Ford's single ‘Change Your Wicked Ways’.
Despite enjoying considerable fame, his professional life soon spiraled downward due to his drug addiction and brushes with the law. By 1986, he had become so deeply embroiled in legal troubles that it was becoming hard for him to get meaningful work. Moreover, lack of substantial roles for ‘Black’ actors further made his career difficult. Depressed by the situation, he delved deeper into drugs and crime.
In the 1990s, he sought professional help for dealing with his drug problem. After rehab, he saw resurgence in his acting career, and made appearances on multiple reality shows. He defeated Vanilla Ice in an episode of the show ‘Celebrity Boxing’ in 2002. In the same year, he made a cameo in Moby’s music video for ‘We Are All Made of Stars’.
In 2006, he appeared as a contestant on a celebrity episode of ‘Fear Factor’, but was eliminated after his first stunt. In the same year, he appeared as a contestant on the Fox reality show ‘Skating with Celebrities’. He was eliminated on the second episode of the show because he used roller skates instead of ice skates.
In January 2007, he appeared in the US version of the game show ‘1 vs. 100’. In an episode titled ‘Burned Bridges’ on MyNetworkTV’s show ‘Decision House,’ he appeared with his wife Dori Bridges. He also accepted a recurring role on the sitcom ‘Everybody Hates Chris’.
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In March 2008, he was seen on ‘TruTV Presents: World's Dumbest...’ He also appeared as a frequent commentator. In October 2008, he appeared as a contestant on ‘Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling’ on the CMT Network. Judges praised him for his athleticism and for defeating Harding. After reaching the finals, he was defeated by Dennis Rodman.
In 2010, he wrote a book, ‘Killing Willis’, and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to promote it. In 2015, he served as the host of a live game show, ‘Lovers or Losers: The Game Show’, at the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Todd Bridges’ performance as Willis Jackson on the sitcom ‘Diff'rent Strokes’ was much appreciated by the critics. Even though it was primarily a sitcom, several serious issues such as racism, illegal drug use, hitchhiking, kidnapping and child sexual abuse were often explored in the episodes.
Drug Addiction & Legal Issues
In 1986, Todd Bridges was accused of bombing the car of a person with whom he had a business dispute. He got three years' probation, 300 hours of community service, and a $2,500 fine.
In his 20s, he became a drug addict. In 1989, he was arrested and tried for attempted murder of Kenneth Clay, a drug dealer, who was allegedly shot by Bridges. A jury acquitted him of the charge.
In January 1989, when he was out of work, he threatened an auto mechanic with a gun, and took his car from the shop without paying his $500 bill. Ultimately, the charges were dropped as witnesses couldn't identify the suspect.
In 1993, Bridges got into an argument with a tenant in his home. The tenant attacked him with a sword and in retaliation Bridges stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife. As he had acted in self-defense, charges were dropped against him. That same year, he was arrested for possession of the drug methamphetamine and for illegal firearms. After this incident, a court ordered a drug treatment program for him.
In 1998, Todd Bridges and his brother James Bridges saved the life of a 51-year-old paraplegic woman who had accidently fallen into a lake and was drowning. The incident happened when her wheelchair rolled into a lake while she was fishing.
He married Dori Smith on May 25, 1998. His son Spencir Bridges was born on July 15, 1998. He is now divorced from Dori.
His son is also a child actor who appeared in the film ‘Daddy Day Camp’ and an ‘iCarly’ episode. Todd also has a daughter named Bo Bridges from a previous relationship.
In 1998, he founded the Todd Bridges Youth Foundation, a nonprofit youth center in Los Angeles that provides sports, computer training, and acting courses for children.