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Actor Todd Bridges coming to JCC Oct. 4

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Actor Todd Bridges doesn’t want a popular catchphrase or his past poor choices to define him.

But Mr. Bridges, who is famous for being the target of the phrase, “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” when he starred as Willis Jackson on the NBC sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” knows that his drug addiction and subsequent trouble with the law will follow him forever. To this day, the 48-year-old said, he struggles to land acting gigs and regrets not seeking or accepting help decades ago.

“You can be a star and still not work all of the time,” he said during a telephone interview Tuesday from his Los Angeles home. “To me, a job is really a job for my family.”

Landing gigs or leading roles puts food on the table for his teenage children, he said, and when he may not get one of those roles because of his criminal background, it makes him wish he had made better choices in his youth. Mr. Bridges will share his story of addiction, recovery and moving forward at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Sturtz Theater at Jefferson Community College, 1220 Coffeen St.

Thomas D. Wojcikowski, assistant director of student activities and cultural affairs at JCC, said the free presentation is on a first-come, first-served basis, so JCC students and the public are encouraged to arrive early to get a seat.

Bringing this story to campus hopefully will inspire students to either seek help for themselves if they are struggling with an addiction or be part of a support system for someone with the disease, Mr. Wojcikowski said.

“It’s his journey, and I think that will resonate with students,” he said. Todd Bridges “is a name some people can recognize and maybe didn’t realize he went through this.”

At about age 15, Mr. Bridges said, he started experimenting with drugs, and he became a hard-core addict at age 20, trying nearly every drug he could get his hands on for the next nine years.

“It was never really explained drugs lead to addictions, and it’d affect your future,” he said.

Initially, he said, he didn’t know why he was drawn to drugs. In the midst of his addiction, he realized it was because of sexual abuse he suffered when he was 12 years old.

“I should have sought counseling,” Mr. Bridges said.

In the 1980s, however, he said, going to a counselor wasn’t as openly accepted as it is today.

According to a 1990 Los Angeles Times article, Mr. Bridges was arrested in 1988 for his involvement in a drug-related shooting, and in November 1989 he was acquitted of “charges of attempted murder and attempted voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of a convicted Texas drug dealer in South-Central Los Angeles.” In the 1980s he also faced other charges, such as making a bomb threat and carrying a concealed weapon.

Throughout his youth and adult life, people tried to help him. But he said he was not ready and “just didn’t hear it at the time.”

In the early 1990s, he got his wake-up call when he was arrested again and in court was given the choice between jail time or rehabilitation. He chose the latter and has been sober now for 21 years.

“You’re never too far gone, but you have to make a decision,” he said. “It didn’t immediately send me back to work. As a black artist, it’s (harder) to bounce back; you see it all the time. I’m still trying to bounce back.”

Since he’s been in recovery, Mr. Bridges has written a book, “Killing Willis,” which was released in 2010, and began doing a comedy show.

He still wants acting roles.

“They’re not coming as fast as I need them to,” he said, regarding auditions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wojcikowski said if students are inspired to change and want to seek treatment for their addiction but don’t know where to start, JCC offers counseling services and referrals to community agencies.

For more information about Mr. Bridges’s presentation, visit the college’s website, www.sunyjefferson.edu.

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