By Ryan P. Casey
For a man who has jumped out of a plane, lived out of his car for two years and starred in several reality shows, it is hard to believe that Danny Bonaduce has anything to be afraid of. Yet it is abject terror, he says, that has gotten him through each colorful development in his life while he has maintained the persona of somebody stuck in arrested development.
“I’m a performer, first and foremost,” the actor, 51, admits, making it hard to know whether his quips and anecdotes, spanning everything from Lindsay Lohan to American literature, are genuine insights or well-rehearsed bits. But the more we talked – and Bonaduce needs little prompting to chat about himself – the more a real portrait of the childish child star emerged. Despite his fondness for tangents, self-deprecating jokes and memorable one-liners, he cannot help but reveal himself as a man driven as an artist, father and husband by his pride.
Forty years after its premiere, he is still proud of his role on The Partridge Family, the ABC sitcom that ran for four seasons and paid just four hundred dollars per week. One might expect him to be bitter that this paltry pay led to his living out of a car behind Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, but the irony of the situation has not escaped him. It was during this destitute period that he was asked to discuss his poverty on Eagle 106, a popular radio station in his hometown of Philadelphia. The interview was a success, and soon he was doing guest spots on radio shows around the country, making money for talking about his life without it. While he mentions this irony with his trademark wit, he also admits, “I am the most fortunate guy I know in this business.”
During that string of interviews in 1988, he couldn’t have been any luckier. A radio executive offered him a hosting position for seventy-five thousand dollars, more money than Bonaduce had ever seen in his life. Just like that, he went from endearing child star to popular radio personality. Now hosting a self-titled show on WYSP in Philadelphia, he takes great pride in his new career and the “almost total freedom” it gives him – perfect for a man of such unrestrained energy and character. His natural habitat is the impulsive, unpredictable environment in which he hosts for four hours each morning, sans script or notes. He shows me an outline he had prepared the previous day for the show, a document he produces daily to appease his superiors. He never uses it. Plan B, he says, the “fallback” plan, is what really happens.
That seems to be the theme of Bonaduce’s life. If poverty and career changes were not enough of a jolt, he also has two failed marriages behind him. Perhaps hoping the third time is the proverbial charm, he recently married a school teacher twenty three years his junior on the very day she proposed. Amy Railsback introduced herself shyly during our interview and admitted that despite his rambunctious personality, her husband is mellowing with age.
“I don’t do a lot of grown-up things because I’m incapable of them,” he quips, but it is a line he has clearly practiced before. This is, after all, a man who wrote a New York Times bestseller that he counts among his greatest achievements. He recently read Plato’s Apology of Socrates. And he speaks fondly of his two children, admitting that he looks forward to going home at the end of each day, curling up with them on the couch, and watching television. For somebody who lives by the motto, “Nobody gets hurt,” it sounds like the safest thing he does all day.
But when he gets up the following morning for another four hours on the air, there is little doubt that Danny Bonaduce will get in touch with his inner child once again.