Willie Aames on 'Fit Club,'
Faith, and Fame
The former child star and his wife on that notorious 'Celebrity Fit Club' scene and their hope for the Christian community.
Actor Willie Aames, best known in his younger years as Buddy from "Charles in Charge" and Tommy on "Eight Is Enough," later as the Christian superhero "Bibleman," and most recently as the "biggest loser" on "VH1's Celebrity Fit Club: Bootcamp," has written a memoir about his journey as a Christian. "Grace Is Enough," which he co-wrote with his wife, actress Maylo Upton-Aames, reveals the couple's ups and downs and how faith helped them overcome drug addiction and other self-destructive behaviors. Beliefnet recently spoke with the couple about growing up around occult activities, Willie's "incident" on "Celebrity Fit Club," and Maylo's battle with lupus.
Interview with Willie Aames
The book describes what seemed to be your attempted suicide at three years old. Tell me a bit about that. What do you think might have led you to that point?
It really wasn't suicide as we know it. I wrote about the first time I tried to hang myself at three. The concept of suicide wasn't there. It's really the concept of what was death? What it was, when you boil it down, was just a matter of did I matter to anybody? Would anybody care if I was gone? What it would be like to die? I think that is just an indication of how lonely I was and how I felt about myself.
Would you say that, from a young age, you suffered from depression?
I suffered from what would later become depression, but I think [it was] just very low self-esteem. There's a personality trait involved that is no one else's fault. That's the way some people are born--you just don't have a proper view of yourself.
Is that something that you still grapple with as an adult?
Absolutely. I never thought I was handsome. I never thought I was particularly talented, and to be honest with you, I still don't. It's one of those things where you learn to understand that your view of you is skewed. It's not quite the way other people see you. Much like an anorexic looks in the mirror and thinks that they're fat when, in fact, they're actually quite thin.
Do you think being in the spotlight for so much of your life has had anything to do with that?
I really don't. I think that that is something that was part of me whether I was in the public or not. I started running away when I was five years old. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized what I really wanted was somebody to come after me when I was running away. I wanted somebody to tell me that I mattered. I wanted somebody to tell me that they cared. It really had nothing to do with being on television or anything else. As a matter of fact, being on television was just an attempt at trying to get the same attention.
You went from being a big TV star and then wound up working for minimum wage as a crew member on a boat. What led you to that point?
I got married at a very young age, and of course, for all the wrong reasons, and ended up divorced and lost everything. It was a very difficult time in my life. I'd just come off a hit series ("Eight Is Enough") and lost everything. I was in trouble with the IRS. I was trying to get sober. And to me, the best thing that I could do was to go up north and get on the dive boats, work for $30 a day, scrub all the toilets I could, and do all the diving I could. It was a great place to hide out and lick my wounds, really.
It wasn't so much working for minimum wage. What was interesting to me, or what was the difficult thing about it, was having been famous and having people laugh at what really was a very honorable job--manual labor--and understanding that, had it been anybody else, nobody would have been laughing.
How did you get through those low points in your life?
I've always been very resilient. I've always had a very good work ethic. I've always been pretty tough in that way, where if you tell me I can't do something, I will prove you wrong.
Up until recently, many people told me, "Why don't you just hang it up? You had a good ride, and you might as well give up." That's just not something that I do easily. No matter how I might feel about myself or my self-image, there is still a part of me that wants to fight to the end.
Later on in life, I recognized that as a strength that I would use to funnel into my faith and to use to encourage others. Being stubborn can be a good thing. Being stubborn can be a bad thing. It just depends on how you use it.
Tell me about your experience as Bibleman. How did you get the role? Why did you leave it behind?
Becoming Bibleman was not something that I really wanted to do. I had been a Christian for six, seven years and had spent most of that time just studying my Bible and different languages and that sort of thing. Children's ministry was the last thing on my mind. I wasn't really a big fan of hanging out with little children. [But] I had said I wanted to be obedient, and no matter how I tried to back away from that project, no matter how many times I said no, I kept coming back to the fact that perhaps this was something that God would want me to do because it was just being obedient and that maybe we could reach kids in a way that nobody else had—even though I didn't want to do it.
I agreed to take the part. My attitude about the whole thing remained the same for 10 years. [There were] many, many days I did not want to be a part of it--I did not want to do it. It was hard, and I was away from my family for a long time. There were just many things about it that I had to just persevere through.
In the end, I'm glad I did because I was extremely blessed. I met 3,400,000 kids a year. We had a huge impact on hundreds of thousands of kids every year.
I ended up being hurt on the road moving equipment back and forth. I blew a couple of discs in my neck and had to have surgery. I never really made the decision to leave that role--the decision was made for me by the company that owned all of Bibleman and all of the products.
One thing that many people don't know is that even though I created, wrote, produced, and directed everything and wrote all of the books, I never owned a piece of it. I still don't own a piece of it. I was just kind of a hired gun and did things job by job. As soon as I was unable to do that, the job was given to somebody else.
Do you think we're lacking Christian role models for children?
That's a difficult question. I think that in the Christian community, we're lacking a lot of things, and I don't know that it's just children's role models.