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.

Todd Bridges

If you were a child of the 70s or 80s, you likely know Todd Bridges. And, if you've ever heard the line: "Whatchu 'talkin 'bout, Willis?" you're familiar with his most famous role.

Bridges shot to stardom on the groundbreaking TV sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" playing Harlem-born Willis Jackson, cool older brother to adorable Arnold (played by Gary Coleman); both adopted sons of the rich, white Phillip Drummond.

Bridges' life took a turn for the worse after the series was canceled. He began using drugs heavily and was in and out of jail. But he turned his life around—he's been sober for 17 years—and talks about his transformation in a new memoir "Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted"(Touchstone).

The actor, who most recently had a reoccurring role on the show "Everybody Hates Chris" and who now stars as a commentator for truTv's "World's Dumbest Criminals," sat down with Beliefnet Entertainment Editor Dena Ross and spoke about embracing Christianity, being sexually abused as a child, and the media's criticism of former child stars.

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Photo Credit: Robert Sebree    

In "Killing Willis," you mention a belief in God throughout your younger years. Were you from a religious household?

I think that most blacks in America are from households that go to church and serve the Lord, so yeah, definitely. But sometimes we take our own turn and try to go our own direction. It's not that we turn away from God. We just stop doing what God is instructing us to do. But when you do that, there's always a heavy price to pay.

You also describe instances of sexual abuse. What do you hope comes out of going public with this information?

What I hope is that anyone else who's struggling with the same kind of situation will find out how to really deal with it. I hope that victims, including myself, stop blaming ourselves and start putting the responsibility where it lies, which is on the actual molester, the guy who actually did it, because a lot of people who get molested spend so much time blaming ourselves and thinking that we deserved it or we put ourselves in that position, not realizing that we had nothing to do with that whatsoever. That was his sickness and not ours.

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