Danny Bonaduce 1959-2009, and Beyond … Probably

Partridge Family child star. Reality TV train wreck. And now, morning-radio host on WYSP. But through it all, Danny Bonaduce has really just had one role to play

He puffs a cigarette, which is actually an electronic device that produces nicotine vapor. He’s quitting real smoking while training for the Canseco fight. These days when he goes to bars, it’s with a strict three-drink limit. He’s been diagnosed more than once as bipolar (“They prescribe Lithium before I sit down”) but isn’t being treated for it pharmaceutically. He’ll tell you he hasn’t even seen cocaine in 20 years (the last time he was arrested on a coke charge was in 1990), though during his heart-crushing 2005-’06 reality TV series Breaking Bonaduce, which chronicled the explosion of his marriage, he abused Vicodin, chugged vodka from the bottle, and injected himself with steroids.

“I don’t think I ever took drugs or drank to mask pain,” he tells me after the morning show ends. “I’m not completely averse to pain. If you live a life with no pain, how do you measure pleasure? You know, I believe it was Socrates who said an unexamined life is not worth living. Well, my life has been examined, and it’s covered in scars, in full steel, titanium and brass.” Here, he gives a tour of the metal inserted into his body to support broken bones.

Danny Bonaduce is a complicated man who wants to be known as a complicated man: as a menace and a mensch; as a black-belt martial artist and a well-read thinker with a library inside his head and an IQ of 156; as a recovering drug addict who’s now hooked on work; as a briefly homeless person and generous millionaire; as a sentimental romantic who, everybody knows, doesn’t give a crap. Or take any. Of course, he really is all of these things.

“If you challenge him, he won’t back down,” says Shila Nathan, one of his on-air sidekicks. “I’ve kicked him in the balls on a dare.”

He became the WYSP morning guy in November, returning to his native Philadelphia, the bad-boy child star turning 50 this year, divorced from an 18-year marriage, with yet another fresh start, a new set of angels watching over him, and a new generation of fans hoping he makes it, or at least flames out as entertainingly as always.

Rewind: Bonaduce is scrutinizing a contract again, but this time it’s not on the radio. It’s in the pilot episode of The Partridge Family, filmed when Danny was nine and aired in the fall of 1970.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kincaid, but naturally I have to look over the fine print. After all, we’ve both agreed that our record will gross millions,” he says. The Partridge Family lasted four seasons, and a generation — the Obama generation, really — had freckled, redheaded Danny Partridge as a TV buddy.

The Bonaduce family had arrived in Hollywood from Broomall when Danny was four. They had deep Philly roots. Bonaduce’s grandfather, Jack Steck, was a TV and radio pioneer at WCAU and WFIL who helped Ed McMahon and Dick Clark get their starts, in the 1950s. One of Steck’s daughters, Jacqueline, taught journalism at Temple for 45 years. His daughter Elizabeth married Joe Bonaduce, who worked at the Philadelphia Zoo. One of Joe’s side gigs was doing kiddie TV shows with animals.