I didn't realize it then, but it was ironic that the Burbank Police Department was the one to arrest me and, ultimately, save my life. When I was at the height of my career as one of the stars of Diff'rent Strokes, I received a plaque on October 13, 1979, "In Appreciation for Services Rendered to the Burbank Police Officers' Association." Nothing could be a clearer symbol of how far I'd fallen since then. Gone was the cute kid who had made people laugh on TV and used his fame for good by visiting veterans, children's hospitals, and public schools. In his place was a shell of a man who was so sick in body and mind that he had almost given the officers who had honored him a good reason to shoot him to death.

When the cops searched my Mercedes, they found my gun and the speed. They knew right where to look. Not too many people were aware of my secret hiding place. But Joelle knew. I was sure she had set me up.

I wanted to kill her. I would have, too, if I'd seen her right then. My mind was still all screwed up from the drugs and everything I'd been through.

But I was tired of feeling like that, of living in a world of drugs and guns, where surviving meant getting the other person before he could get me. I felt lucky that I had made it out alive. I was going to at least try to stay that way. I basically told the officer everything. Ironically, there wasn't much to tell, not like if they had arrested me a year earlier. Since I had quit using hard drugs, and pretty much quit dealing, my life was fairly tame. But there was enough to keep me in jail.

I called up my lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, who went on to make his name defending O. J. Simpson during his murder trial. Johnnie came down and sat next to me in the cell. He rolled his ring around on his finger, thinking, before he spoke.

"I'm going to tell you what," he said. "This is the last time I'm going to help you with anything. If you don't straighten your life out, I'm done. Don't call me. Don't be my friend. I don't need you in my life if you can't straighten yourself out."

Excerpted from Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted by Todd Bridges with Sarah Tomlinson. Copyright ?? 2010 by Touchstone. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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