Child Star Curse? Danny Bonaduce’s Ex-Wife Talks Addiction and Stardom

It seems to be a common trend in Hollywood: young stars who grow up in the spotlight fold under intense pressure with some turning to substance abuse, self-harm, or even suicide. While 70s sitcom star Danny Bonaduce is no stranger to the struggles of young stardom, it seems that those troubles still haunt him to this day. Known for his role as Danny Partridge in the hit TV show, ‘The Partridge Family’, Bonaduce’s life was turbulent even at the height of his success. Allegations of child abuse at the hands of his father began during the show’s run when Shirley Jones (Shirley Partridge) noticed bruises on his body. According to Bonaduce, by the time the show ended in 1974, he was homeless, broke, and abusing illicit substances as a coping mechanism.

Danny Bonaduce would struggle with drug abuse for years to come, including during his 18-year marriage to former wife, Gretchen Hillmer. In her new memoir, Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus, Gretchen details the caustic and sometimes dangerous nature of their union, citing her belief that much of it stemmed from the damage of being young and in Hollywood:

“It was highs and lows and no in-between. He’s such a damaged person, and he was trying so hard. Like, he’d be sober for six months and he’d be all screwed up again, then he’d be sober for three months.”

This is a cycle familiar to many who struggle with addiction, as drugs and alcohol replace healthier coping mechanisms and become both a salve and a poison. For nearly two decades Gretchen watched her husband battle his demons unsuccessfully before making the decision to leave for the sake of both herself and their children, Dante and Isabella. The divorce was finalized in 2008. The previous year, Bonaduce was charged with assaulting ‘Survivor’ star Jonny Fairplay resulting in serious damage to his mouth and nose. In 1991, near the beginning of his marriage to Gretchen, Danny also faced assault charges for an altercation with a transsexual sex worker, for which he accepted a plea bargain.

When asked what she believes is the root cause of her ex-husband’s substance abuse and subsequent legal troubles, Gretchen Hillmer pointed toward his childhood.

“Oh, I think it had a lot of impact. He came from a really rough home, with his father in particular. He and his father had a very volatile relationship and Danny Partridge was probably the biggest child star at the time or one of them for sure. I think that having the world love you, but your father doesn’t like you had to mentally screw him up in a lot of ways- and I just had so much compassion for him […] But, I think every child always wants their father’s approval, and that’s like the one person you always want to be proud of you and you want to like you. For him not having that, it was really hard on him and that carried over into his adult life.”

Suppressed and unaddressed past traumas are a common cause of drug and alcohol abuse and other self-harming behaviors later in life. While the horrifying trend of addiction among young people in Hollywood is certainly something that needs to be explored, this correlation between mental and emotional pain and substance abuse is not limited to the rich and famous. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, unearthing those deeply rooted seeds of addiction could be the first step in the healing journey of recovery.


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