By the early 1980s, he was living in his car. In 1985, he was arrested in Los Angeles for cocaine possession, and the National Enquirer bailed him out of jail for a story. In 1988 he was beaten up while naked outside a sleazy motel. In 1991, after a misunderstanding, he was arrested for assaulting a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix. You know, stuff like that.
When radio stations or “Where are they now?” shows put him on the air, he made people smile. It turned out audiences still wanted him, in a role they recognized and one he was born to play: Danny Bonaduce. Back in Philadelphia in 1988, a one-off interview turned into a job as a sidekick on Eagle 106. And his new career began. He did radio in Phoenix, then Philly again, Chicago, Detroit, New York, L.A. He’s been doing it for 20 years now, almost always working more than one job at a time, pitching TV projects, doing appearances. He’s made millions. Which, it turns out, didn’t always make the pain stop.
Reality TV, that gruesome beast hungry for damaged people with a flair for the dramatic, was inevitable for someone so good at playing Danny Bonaduce. He had met Gretchen Hillmer in 1990, and they married on their first date. He knew their marriage was troubled in 2005, when they began taping Breaking Bonaduce for VH1. The program captured the couple’s life with their adorable kids, Isabella and Dante, and their sessions in therapy after Danny had an affair. It’s hard to know how much Reality Show Danny was reality and how much was show. But it was good TV. He was alternately a super-fun dad and loving husband and a jealous, self-destructive maniac. The producers called it a suicide attempt when, in Episode 5, Gretchen and Danny closed the bathroom door to be off-camera and she told him she wanted a divorce. He smashed a disposable razor and slashed his wrist, and blood gushed.
“I was making a point,” he says. “I said, ‘I’ll die without you!’ and slashed across my wrist. I wasn’t trying to die.”
IT WAS MID-AFTERNOON this January in Philadelphia, in the small apartment in Center City that Bonaduce spent the winter sharing with his girlfriend, Amy Railsback.
“Watch this!” Bonaduce said, and he hooked a metal exercise device over a door frame in the narrow hallway and started doing pull-ups. Every time he reached the bottom, Railsback punched him as hard as she could in the stomach.
Bonaduce met Railsback, a 26-year-old former math teacher, in L.A., after it became clear his marriage was ending, he says. She’s never watched Breaking Bonaduce and ignored friends who suggested she was hooking up with a psychopath. “I’ve seen Partridge Family on Nick at Nite,” she says. She handles Bonaduce’s schedule, his finances, his boxing workouts, his heart and soul. “I am aware I need a keeper,” he says. If demons are still driving him, they’re sleeping at the wheel these days.