Tragic Details About Todd Bridges

Todd Bridges started out as a child actor on the popular NBC (later ABC) sitcom, "Diff'rent Strokes." The series ran from the late '70s and ended in the mid-'80s (via IMDb). But by the time it was canceled, the show's two main actors, Gary Coleman and Bridges, were huge stars. The show followed two characters named Arnold and Willis Jackson, respectively, as two Black orphans taken in by a rich white businessman. It ran for eight seasons and Bridges was just 13 years old when he was cast as the person who was the subject of the show's famous line, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?"

When the show ended, Bridges was 20 years old and would have a very promising career to look forward to. Yet, reportedly, Bridges was suffering with addiction, which would highly affect the acting jobs he'd get. The end of the show proved to be a drastic turn in his life. Along with drug addiction, Bridges would end up getting arrested, doing jail time, and even being charged with attempted murder.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Todd Bridges' childhood and entrance into acting

The future actor was born Todd Anthony Bridges on May 27, 1965, in San Francisco, California. Growing up in the state that is home to Hollywood, naturally, Bridges had Tinseltown dreams. Per his 2010 autobiography, "Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted," Bridges knew he wanted to become an actor at the age of 5. He found luck in 1975, making his very first television debut on an episode of the show, "Barney Miller."

For most of the mid-to-late '70s, Bridges snagged numerous roles on several series. His young career was on the move, and he had small roles in "Roots" and "Little House on the Prairie." The latter show, along with the "The Waltons," helped Bridges earn his first recurring regular acting roles (via IMDb). By 1977, he was cast to play a character named Loomis on the ABC sitcom "Fish," which lasted for only two seasons. His big break came the following year, when he made his debut as Willis Jackson on "Diff'rent Strokes." He would spend most of his critical teen years on the show, but that's when his personal issues began.

Todd Bridges deals with various tragedies

It all started when he was 15 years old — just a few years into his role as Willis. Around that time, he reportedly started using drugs, per Oprah.

His coping with drugs was the result of being a victim of alleged abuse. When Bridges was about 11 years old, he claimed an older man, who was a friend of his family, repeatedly abused him. One day, though, Bridges physically defended himself during an attack and his mother threatened the purported predator. While his mother was immediately reactionary to learning of Bridges' assault, his father wasn't. As a result, it reportedly fractured any security he felt with his father. The ordeal would affect him later on in life. 

During the show's run, Bridges had a run-in with the law. He would get arrested and fined in 1983 for having a concealed weapon (per UPI).

When the show ended, his earlier drug addiction reportedly persisted and increased. He also supposedly added dealing to his roster, and at that point, Bridges was purportedly using and selling both cocaine and meth (via USA Today). Then in 1987, he was charged with robbery and for making a threat, per UPI.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The legal problems of Todd Bridges

Todd Bridges' troubles wouldn't stop there. Things took a turn for the worse when he ended up facing even more law issues related to his reported addiction. In 1989, he was charged with attempted murder of another drug dealer (via Associated Press). In May 1990, Bridges was jailed on suspicion of drug possession (per Los Angeles Times), and a few months later he'd get acquitted for his murder charge (via Associated Press).

His purported addiction and arrests tired the young actor, and in 1992 when he was 26 years old, Bridges had reached a breaking point when he hit rock bottom. In his autobiography, the actor revealed he considered suicide by cop after being pulled over. He admitted that he'd grown tired of the life that he was living and considered the disturbing method as a way to end it. In the book, he detailed his state of mind and the level of exhaustion he was experiencing. "I was worn out. It'd been a long time coming. I'd been using and dealing on and off for six years, and even though I'd been trying to get my act cleaned up, it clearly wasn't working," wrote Bridges (via USA Today).

A judge ordered him to undergo a 90-day psychological study (via UPI) — a sentence that would likely save him. The actor got clean afterward and has been sober for well over two decades now.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Life after getting clean

For Todd Bridges, being off drugs was a life-changing moment. The judge's decision not to penalize Brides for his illness would turn out to be a good opportunity for the actor to get back on track. Because it wasn't just the addiction that he was suffering from — being a victim of alleged abuse further complicated his turn to drugs. As it turned out, he was using it to tackle the abuse he allegedly faced as a young boy. But nothing helped, and the quick fix he got only gave him short-term relief. "What made me stop was I got sick and tired of going through that pain and suffering. All drugs did was compound it and make it even worse. The drugs helped it temporarily, but it wasn't a long-lasting fix. That's why I had to stop," said Bridges in an interview (via Belief Net).

One of the factors that helped him get to a place of sobriety was his faith. He turned to religion to find an answer, which led him to realizing that he needed to reset where things were going in his life. "Listening to that inner voice that God is speaking through and realizing that I had choices to make. Most of them were about straightening out my life and getting my life together," said Bridges.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

More tragedy for Bridges

Todd Bridges was able to get back into acting, taking on small roles in various television shows after his stint in prison and getting clean. He made appearances on a few reality TV shows, had recurring roles in series such as "The Young and the Restless" and "Everybody Hates Chris." He even produced and directed a biographical film about his life titled "Building Bridges," per IMDb.

While things were going good, the actor dealt with other tragedies, such as the deaths of his former "Diff'rent Strokes" cast members. Currently 56 years old, Bridges is the only living member of the cast. The first tragic death was the actress who played his adoptive sister on the show. In 1999, actress Dana Plato died at 34 of an apparent suicide (per Associated Press). In March 2010, his close friend and actor Corey Haim died at 38 years old. Bridges told the Today Show that he attempted several times to help the late actor get clean.

The last man standing

However, loss would continue in just a few months. In May 2010, his television brother Gary Coleman died at the age of 42. A few years would pass by but in 2013, actor Conrad Bain, who played Bridge's adoptive father on the show, died, per the Los Angeles Times. By then most of the former cast was dead with just Bridges and actress Charlotte Rae as the last living cast members of the show. 

Sadly, in 2018 Rae died at the age of 92, leaving Bridges to be the only living actor from the show. He spoke about his emotional response to the sad fact to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "I had a hard time last night when I learned about Charlotte. When I hung up the phone, I just broke down. I'm the only one left. That's hard to deal with. It's really sad and emotional. I had one piece left from that show. Now I'm the only cast member left," said Bridges.