Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and former child star Corey Haim all shared the same tragic fate—untimely deaths caused by suspected drug use. Former Miss USA Tara Connor is now ready to tell the ugly truth of her addiction, says Oprah.
In 2006, this is exactly what happened. Shortly after being crowned Miss USA, Tara Conner’s unbecoming behavior began to make headlines. The media ran reports of Tara’s underage drinking and drug abuse, as well as scandalous photos of this blonde beauty queen running wild, left many people shaking their heads. Eight months into her yearlong reign, Tara tested positive for cocaine. When business mogul Donald Trump, co-owner of the Miss USA organization, called a press conference, everyone—including Tara—expected him to strip Tara of her crown. Instead, Donald offered her a second chance. Tara agreed to go to rehab. She apologized to her family for this crazy ordeal. During this time, Tara says that she was living a lie. Now, Tara is ready to speak publicly about her path of self-destruction and drug addiction.
She is in the studio with Oprah and says that she had problems from the beginning. “I started using when I was 14 years old. I had my first drink when, I think, I was 14,” she says. “It wasn’t me moving to New York and becoming Miss USA that thrust me into the spotlight and put all this pressure on me. It wasn’t that at all. I had the disease of alcoholism from the get-go.”
“Everyone thought I was professional and this sweet girl who showed up for what I needed to show up for, and I was a pageant girl. Everyone thinks the pageant girls are Polly Purebred perfect,” she says. “You can’t make a mistake, but on the inside, I felt dirty. I felt ashamed. I felt less than, not enough. I was never enough for me.” No one knew that she was doing drugs. In Kentucky, her drug of choice was pain pills. She says that they were always around her. Oprah says that she has never been offered a pain pill. Tara says that you are the company that you keep. Oprah says that we are conditioned to think that beautiful people don’t have problems, don’t have pain to be suppressed. At age 14, Tara’s parents divorced, and soon after, her beloved grandfather died. “I feel like I was crying out for help, but no one could hear me because everyone was so concerned with their own life,” Tara says. Around this time, Tara says she started cutting to ease the emotional pain building up inside her. “It was a controlled pain,” she says. “For cutters, like if you are having a moment or had a feeling—because, heaven forbid, we feel—it’s a way of controlling what you’re feeling.” She inflicted her own pain.
Oprah asks to go back to the pageant, the moment where she won. Tara says that the moment her name was announced—a moment millions of little girls dream of—Tara says she thought, “What now?” “Honest to God, I didn’t think I was going to win,” she says. Everyone thought Miss California was going to win, including Tara. “So when they called my name, I just kind of covered my face. … I think, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do.’ But I didn’t even feel it.” Earlier that day, Tara says she’d taken a Xanax and was still feeling the effects. She had slept most of it off, but she was still not feeling pain or anything at all at the time of the ceremony. She did drugs so that she didn’t have to feel her feelings.Tara stood onstage with a smile plastered on her face and tried to hide what she was feeling inside. Oprah and Tara agree that it’s all the same pain, the pain of feelings, being hidden by all addictions.
In the A&E special Fame and Recovery, Tara reveals for the first time what led to her headline-making drug scandal. When she was just 13 years old, Tara started turning heads in Russell Springs, Kentucky, the small town where she was raised. On the advice of a family friend, she began entering beauty pageants. AT 14 her parents divorced and they lost their stable life. In High school she tried Vicodin and found her relief, she loved it. Her mother says that her grades plummeted, they had screaming matches, but then Tara would turn around and win a pageant. If Tara got in trouble at school or her grades started to slip, she says she learned that if she won a pageant, all was forgiven. “My name was in the papers all over again,” she says. “And [people thought], ‘Well, she can’t be a drug addict if she’s winning pageants.’” Tara also discovered that she could numb her feelings with prescription pills like Vicodin. “I started taking Percocet, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, morphine pills, methadone OxyContin,” she says. “It consumed every minute of my day. There would be times where I could do 30 pain pills in a day.”
Oprah asks how in the world she could take 30 pills a day, Tara says it takes practice and tolerance. The scariest part is when the drug does not take effect any more. Tara agrees that it is a wonder that she is alive. She says that she was usually on drugs when in pageants. Oprah is shocked that Tara could do the walk and the talk and function on so many pain pills. Tara says that it became a way of life.
When she was 14, something awful happened, One night, after drinking and taking pills with a group of friends, Tara found herself alone with a man. “I acted a little bit more wasted than I was so I could go to sleep, because I didn’t want to deal with the guy that was there,” she says. “Then, he picks me up. … I knew something was off, and he was being bizarre, but part of me was just thinking: ‘I wonder what he’s going to do. I wonder how far he’s going to take it.’” Tara says the man carried her from her home to his car. Then, she says he raped her. “I didn’t do anything about it. I just sat there,” she says. “I was like: ‘Wow. Everyone else hurts me. Now, what are you going to do?’ I would bring on all of these situations and put myself through this pain because I felt so dirty, and I felt so ashamed and I felt like damaged goods. I expected these things to happen to me.” That felt normal to her.
Oprah asks how she felt being next to Donald Trump. When Donald called a press conference to address Tara’s positive drug test, she says she thought she was going to lose her crown. Although Tara asked Donald for a second chance, she says she would have been okay either way. “Part of me was like, ‘Wow, all of my skeletons are out there,’” she says. “There’s a freedom that comes with that.”
After hearing Tara’s revelations about her drug use during the pageant, Donald says Tara shouldn’t have won the title. “We didn’t know about her drug use,” he says. “Had we had an idea, she probably wouldn’t have been in the contest to start off with. I’m sure that she would not be Miss USA.” From the beginning of Tara’s reign, Donald says the Miss USA staff wanted her out. Originally, Donald planned on firing her, but after meeting with her in his office, he had a change of heart. “I hated it from the concept of what it would do to somebody’s life,” he says. “I said I was going to give her a second chance. … The biggest backlash I had was not from the public. I think the public liked it. The biggest backlash I had was from the staff.” Donald has personal reasons for his decision. His brother, Fred, who was a great guy, was an alcoholic. “He had everything, but he got hooked on alcohol, and it killed him,” Donald says. “I believe in second chances, and sometimes it works when you give somebody a second chance. She went from being a disaster to being a terrific Miss USA. But, much more importantly, she sets an example for so many other people that are going through the same thing.”
Oprah asks Tara what she thinks of that. Tara says that it was touching. The organization hated her, she was unloveable at the time. Tara thinks she should have been let go, she didn’t expect the second chance, Donald was good to her. To anyone facing the same battle, Tara says there’s someone out there who feels the same way you do, and there’s help available. “Even if you don’t love yourself at all, other people do love you,” she says. “I’ve had so many people come forward and help me, and I’ve been so fortunate in my life. I don’t feel I deserve any of the good things I got, but apparently I do. And through the course of other people loving me, I learned how to love myself.” Tara cries as she speaks.
Oprah asks Tara if she now thinks that she is enough. Yes, says Tara. “Every day I learn something new about myself, and I prove myself wrong,” she says. “I’m allowing myself to feel. I’m allowing myself to love. I’m allowing myself to feel pain where I wouldn’t before.” Now, Tara is three years sober, and she loves the woman she’s becoming. Oprah thanks Tara and Donald Trump.
Todd Bridges was one of the most famous young actors of the 70‘s and 80‘s, but his reckless behavior made him the poster child for child stars gone bad. He was just 7 years old when he landed his first acting job. After appearing in dozens of commercials, this talented, precocious child was cast on hit TV shows like The Love Boat and Barney Miller. In the ’70s, Todd also earned the distinction of being one of the first African-American actors to appear on popular series like The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. After appearing in the groundbreaking mini-series Roots, Todd landed the role of a lifetime. He was cast as Willis Jackson on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. Alongside child actors Gary Coleman and Dana Plato, Todd became a household name. The hit series keep audiences laughing for eight seasons. But, when Diff’rent Strokes was canceled in 1986, Todd says he felt like his life was over. Soon after, Todd’s fall from stardom began. This beloved TV star became hooked on crack cocaine and methamphetamines, and he started dealing drugs to support his addiction. Fame quickly turned to infamy as reports of drug abuse and arrests made headlines. Todd was arrested for felony assault and cocaine possession, and in 1989, he faced his most serious charge—attempted murder. Todd was accused of shooting a drug dealer eight times after a cocaine binge, but after two trials and nine months behind bars, he was acquitted. He continued to bounce in and out of jail. Then, in 1992, Todd was arrested yet again, but this time was different. Instead of returning to jail, Todd entered a yearlong drug rehabilitation program. To this day, many people still think of Todd as a poster child for child stars gone bad and remember him for his mistakes, but he says he turned his life around long ago.
This 44-year-old father of two has been clean and sober now for 17 years. In his memoir “Killing Willis.” He says that he cannot escape the role of WIllis. Todd reveals painful, underlying issues that drove his addiction. When Todd wasn’t on the set of Diff’rent Strokes, he says there was little laughter in his life. “The only time when I was happy was when I was on the sets,” he says. “I was going through a lot at the time. I really was hurting.” When he looks back at his decline, he sees all the pain that he was going through, which he couldn’t reveal. Oprah says that we think that child stars and famous people have nothing to complain about.
Oprah asks Todd to read from page 68 of the book, about the sexual molestation he received at age 11. Oprah feels passionately as an abuse survivor that we must educate parents. When she was reading Todd’s story, she found it classic. Todd says he was sexually molested by a family friend when he was just 11 years old, and he’s been trying to cope with the pain ever since. Todd says the grooming process started early. The abuser bought Todd a bicycle and showered him with attention. “He started setting me up for things by telling me that girls were no good and that you could feel the same way with a girl that you could with a guy,” Todd says. At age 11, he knew nothing about sex. Then, after the man gained Todd’s trust and the trust of his parents, the molestation began. In his book, Killing Willis, Todd describes the first time. “‘Pull your pants down,’ he said. I didn’t want to lose everything he had given me. And so I did. He put his mouth on me. I got hard. I didn’t know where to look or how to feel. I squirmed against the back of the seat. He kept on going, getting into it. I hoped it would be over fast. Then it happened. I came. As confused and upset as I was, I liked the feeling,” Todd writes. “I didn’t think about whether it was wrong that a man had done that to me. I just wanted it to be over. I held on to the fact that it felt good.” Todd cries and covers his face with his hand. It’s been more than 30 years since that day, but Todd is still overcome with emotion when discussing his abuse. “I’m past it, but it still hurts,” he says. “It ruined my life. I spent the rest of my time trying to cover up how I felt about it and that pain, and I hated it.” Oprah says that after the break Todd will tell us what is worse than being abused.
From ages 11 to 12, Todd says the man abused him three separate times. The abuser tried to take the place of his father, saying he loved Todd more than his father did. When he tried for the fourth time, Todd fought back. “He wanted to go places, and I didn’t want to go at that point because I knew something was wrong. It just didn’t feel right,” he says. “I remember I was sitting on my living room couch in Baldwin Hills, and my mom was there. He came in the room, and I just jumped on him. I wanted to kill him at that point, because I really felt like I was in such pain, and I wanted to attack him.” Todd attacked his abuser before his mother, Betty, could pull him away. At that moment, she says she realized what had happened. In the audience, she says, “I had been molested myself,” Betty says. “I knew something was wrong. I told him, ‘Leave my house right now.’” When the man refused to leave, Betty says she went into the kitchen and came back with a knife. “I forced him out of the house,” she says. “And I called Todd’s father and told his father what had happened. He didn’t believe it.” Todd’s father accused his son of lying about the abuse. “That really destroyed me because my father was supposed to be my protector. He didn’t protect me. He allowed this man to do this to me and didn’t help me,” he says. He cries. “That was the breaking point for me.” From that moment on, Todd says he was hell-bent on getting even with his father and making him pay for how his accusations made him feel. He says he no longer cared about the abuser, only his father’s reaction. He says that he has kids and if one of them told him they’d been abused then “that man’s dead. There is no way that he’s going to live.” The crowd applaud. Um, yeah, says Oprah. Todd says that he was never a liar, so he didn’t know why his father didn’t believe him. Todd says he thought he was gay after being abused because his first—and only—sexual experience up until that point had been with a man. “I didn’t know because I was thinking, ‘Well, I liked the way it felt, and maybe that’s what I’m into,’” he says. Then, when he was 12 1/2 years old, Todd says he and his co-star Dana Plato began experimenting sexually. “That proved to me that I liked girls,” he says. The audience laugh.
Oprah says that reading the book made it clear to her that Todd’s desire for sex and using and abusing women was connected to the abuse. But, from adolescence on, Todd says his sexual abuse affected the way he treated the women in his life. For years, he used, abused and discarded girlfriends…except one. “There’s only one girl in my life that I had feelings for that I did not want to hurt. Only one woman, and that was Janet [Jackson],” he says. “I backed away from her because she was such a nice person. She was so good to me that I just couldn’t see myself hurting her like that.” Todd says he chose Janet to play his girlfriend on Diff’rent Strokes, and they dated for a short time in the ’80s.
Around this time, when Todd was 15 or 16, he says he began experimenting with drugs. “I wouldn’t do it on the set. I would never do that. I would always wait until the weekends and do it just to try to forget what I was going through,” he says. “When I was on the set, I felt such peace and safety.” Todd says Conrad Bain, the actor who played Mr. Drummond, his father on Diff’rent Strokes, was more of a dad to him than his own father was.
Oprah asks about his father. At home, Todd lived in fear of his father. “Whenever the garage door would start to come open, that’s when we got nervous because we knew my dad was going to be drunk,” he says. “We knew that he was going to be angry, and most times, he was always angry at me.” He would shout and scream and slap Todd on the back of the head, and to this day that is why he will hit someone who slaps him on the back of the head.
When Diff’rent Strokes went off the air in 1986, Todd was a star. Two years later, he says he was living in South Central Los Angeles, the neighborhood where his downward spiral began. He takes the camera crew back to his life. “I had no shoes on, no shirt on, no money in my pocket, and I felt horrible about myself,” he says. “I felt that my life was over.” To support his voracious drug habit, Todd began dealing marijuana, speed, crack and cocaine. “I wasn’t Willis when I was over here. I was Todd Bridges, the drug dealer,” he says. “I was considered a pretty notorious character. I had a .45-caliber MAC-10 I used to carry on me. I had a 9 mm, and if I showed you it and it came out of my waistband, you were shot,” he says. “It was a matter of survival of the fittest.”
He takes the crew to the house he used to deal meth from, and says that he was so paranoid he dug a tunnel from the house to the corner of the street, to get away from the police. “That’s how I would get away from the police,” he says. “Because I knew the police were watching me.”
He shows the crew the payphone that he used to run his whole operation. During this time, Todd says he also employed girls as drug dealers so he could have sex with them. “I was a pimp in a lot of ways. I’m not happy saying that I was, but I was. That’s the reality of it,” he says. “I can’t hide behind what I’ve done wrong, but I can say that everything I did was in the depth of me being loaded.”
He was addicted to crack, and then meth amphetamine. The first time he shot up meth, he had an orgasm. He wanted to feel nothing. After Todd became addicted to meth, he says he cut off contact with his family, holed up in his home and battled vivid hallucinations.
Oprah asks if it is true that Todd used to be recognized all the time. He says people used to recognize him on the street and in crack houses, but he would tell them to shut up and stay away. Todd says he once stayed up for 14 days straight doing drugs, an unimaginable feat that caused psychosis. “I started having grand mal seizures,” he says. “I went into that house, and I started seeing these little green men that came up, and I thought my grandmother had put these inside my house, underneath it. I was chasing them. I was shooting at them.”
Oprah asks how it was to see her boy in this state. Betty says she had no idea what was happening to her son. “He disappeared. I didn’t know where he was,” she says. “I did know that he was gone on drugs, and I just went into prayer, and I said to God, ‘If you want to take him, take him.’ I don’t want to see him like that.” She said she is giving her son back to God, Todd puts his head in his hands.
Oprah asks Todd what saved him. He got arrested and he was offered by the judge to go to jail or rehab. He went to rehab again, thinking it would never work and after a violent episode he ended up being put in a straightjacket and a diaper. Oprah asks if there is anything more demoralizing than being strapped in four ways wearing only a diaper? No, “nothing more demoralizing,” he says. “I said, ‘This is a far cry from being Willis Jackson.’” As he lay there, Todd realized something had to change. “I go: ‘This has got to stop. I’ve got to get my life together,’” he says. “And another voice came and said, ‘Just give yourself time.’ He says. ‘I want you to learn to listen.’ And I was like, ‘Well, listen to who?’ He goes, ‘Listen to who I put in front of you.’” By the third day he couldn’t hold it anymore and he pooped in the diaper. He was 26, this was “not cool.” Oprah says that everyone has stories of not being loved enough. She says that he got so much love, but not from his father. Since Todd says he never got enough love from his own father, he focuses on being positive and present with his own children. “I tell them I love them. I hug them. When my son wakes in the morning, he doesn’t have to worry about whether his dad’s in a bad mood,” he says. “I give him a hug and talk with him, because I don’t want him to be missing what I was missing.”
Todd, Gary and Dana, the child stores from Different Strokes all have had terrible issues with drugs and more, Dana died from an overdose. Oprah asks if they were all cursed. Todd says that they all had similar backgrounds. Todd has a very strong mother, and unfortunately the others don’t. He says that it was not a curse because he has been sober for 17 years. He is upset that people still judge him on his past. In Killing Willis, Todd says he makes his pain and mistakes known so people realize what he’s gone through to get to this point. “I accept full responsibility,” he says. “I made some stupid decisions and some horrible choices. But my question always is: ‘How long is the media going to continue to make me pay for it? What do I have to do?’”
He saved someones life and still his past baggage was brought up- sensationalism sells he said. He says that his life is great. Money is sometimes a worry. Oprah asks if he gets money from TV reruns. He got a check for $400 for Little House, Different Strokes he gets maybe $2 an episode and no DVD money. Oprah thanks him.
WHAT WE LEARNED TODAY:
Even beautiful people and rich people and child stars have problems.
All addictions are attempts to hide the pain of feelings.
Even if you don’t love yourself at all, other people do love you.
You are the company that you keep.
There is nothing more demoralizing than being restrained in a straitjacket and wearing only a diaper.
A VERY QUICK SUMMARY:
If you are a poster child for child stars gone bad, you may always be remembered for your mistakes.