You and Dana Plato, who played your sister on the show, had a very close relationship. How did her death affect you?
It affected me a great deal because she was a good friend of mine. I tried to get her to fight her addiction and to stand up for it. But, she told me three days before she died that "I don't have a problem like you do." The biggest [part of] our disease is denial. A lot of us will deny this disease until the end, until you die.
For a lot of people right now, the number one killer in America is prescription drugs. A lot of people are dying from prescription drugs, not just child stars. It's ordinary people--mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts. But [the media] doesn't focus in on that. They only focus in on the ex-child stars.
When Dana passed away, she had just done an interview with Howard Stern. A lot of people say that interview—the reactions and negative comments she received from listeners--might have pushed her over the edge.
The problem with her doing that show was she didn't tell the truth on that show. They asked her had she ever done cocaine, and I'm listening to the show, and she said no. And I'm thinking to myself, "Hmm, I did a lot of cocaine with her." She got on there and she tried to look great and not tell the truth and she got attacked by a lot of people because they knew she wasn't telling the truth, and she couldn't handle that.
It may have pushed over the edge, but then, she shouldn't have done the show. She wasn't ready to handle that. Don't get on a show like that and not tell the truth. I admit everything that I've done. I have learned to tell the truth—it doesn't matter what someone thinks about me. It matters what I think about myself. And that's the key to anybody being successful in this country. There are plenty of people who strive for perfection but are never going to find it. The only true perfection that's in this world was Jesus Christ, and if it wasn't for Him dying for us, we wouldn't be where we are today.
When He was lying upon the cross and that murderer next to him asked for forgiveness, Jesus gave it to him. You could be forgiven for anything. You just have to know how to go about it and God has to know your heart. He has to see what's inside of your heart.
You cannot get in front of people and not tell the truth when they're looking right at you and know the truth and you just denying it. It's like a guy who robs the bank with cameras on him and he goes, "That wasn't me."
On the show I do, "World's Dumbest Criminals," you get plenty of those guys saying, "That wasn't me," and the camera's looking right at them and it's their face. It's like, come on! How can you sit there and say it's not you? We're looking at you. We see you. Or the guy who's drunk out of his mind and driving his car and a police officer says, "How many drinks have you had?" "Oh, I've only had one." [Meanwhile] the guy can't even stand up. Just say, "I'm drunk, take me to jail." You might as well admit it.
When you first came to Los Angeles to film "Diff'rent Strokes" you had some of your first experiences with racism. Throughout the show did things get better or worse?
I lived in the San Fernando Valley. It got worse the longer I lived out in the Valley. I was always the first black family in that neighborhood and we suffered a lot at the hands of racist police officers. It got so bad to where I was pulled over every day for two years by the same officers-- harassing me, making me late for work, just messing with me. They knew that I had a job. They knew I was on a TV show, but they didn't care.
I'd spent most of the time talking about the LAPD, about the things that they were doing, and nobody believed me. It was like, "Oh, he's just making it up because he's out doing [bad] things."
And now people look back and go, "Wow, he was telling the truth. Now, we realize that police officers will raise their hand and tell a lie." They're human beings and they're capable of lying just like anybody else is.
I was from San Francisco, California, so I didn't know racism. It was very much of a melting pot. Everyone got along. Our best friends were white. Our best friends were black. We lived in a very racially mixed neighborhood. But, when I moved to Los Angeles, we found things out that I hadn't ever heard before. The first time somebody called me the "N word," me and my brother were walking and we were with our Spanish friend and we were on our way to football practice. I didn't even know what it meant. My brother didn't know what it meant. My Spanish friend, he was all upset and his feathers were all ruffled. He was ready to go beat those guys up. We were like, "What'd they say?" When he explained it to us, then we were real upset.
Our mother raised us in a way that we didn't know what racism was because she didn't want us to be racist in any kind of way. But, I think that everybody to a certain degree has racist tendencies. The question is, "Why are you racist and should you be?" Just because all those things happened to me through the hands of racist white cops, should I hate all cops that are white? No. It's not everybody.