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MIKE DOWNEY

Hollywood Henderson Went Through Hell and Lived to Tell About It

September 07, 1987|MIKE DOWNEY

When he played in a couple of Super Bowls, he hid in his pocket an inhaler spiked with liquefied cocaine, so he could whiff on the stuff during the game. So much membrane was missing from his nose that he packed solid chunks of coke inside the nostrils to keep it from running.

He did Quaaludes, chain-smoked joints and free-based in dorm rooms with teammates. He drank five gin and tonics for lunch, 20 to 25 doubles during Happy Hour and kept on drinking and drinking and drinking until last call. When he admitted himself into a drug rehab center, he smoked dope on the steps of the clinic before entering, then had more coke smuggled at night into his room, between treatments.

He hit his wife and slapped his mother. He orgied with athletes and entertainers and went through women like Kleenex. He punched out teammate Mike Stensrud, brawled with ex-teammate Randy White, and fingered a knife that he intended to plunge into teammate Robert Brazile's throat during an argument on an airplane.

On Nov. 2, 1983, he picked up two young girls, took them home, free-based with them, had sex with one of them, pulled a gun on them and ended up in jail when they turned out to be underage. He tried to bribe one of them $10,000 to drop the charges against him, got sentenced to four years and eight months in prison, and got out Oct. 15, 1986, though not before another prisoner got stuck 14 times with a knife right in front of his eyes.

Inside the joint, after witnessing the attack on the other man, Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson had to keep himself from being killed. In some ways, though, he was better off than he was on the outside, where for several years he had been trying, without ever knowing it, to kill himself.

Now the man who made such a mess out of his life is having lunch, finishing off a Cobb salad and reaching for an unfiltered Camel, and talking about the book he began in prison--the biography of a young Texan who grew up with nothing, grew to have just about everything, then blew it right up his nose.

"It was painful. It was a labor," Henderson said. "It wasn't very easy to bear my soul to the entire country and not try to clean it up along the way."

He did not. "Out of Control: Confessions of an NFL Casualty," is a book that will enrage some readers, offend some readers, and make some readers wish they had their $17.95 back. But, if graphic honesty counts for anything in this world, at least Henderson can be given credit for being as savagely cruel to himself as he used to be with others.

"No one can read my book and come away saying, 'This self-serving jerk.' They're going to go away saying, 'This man is brutal to himself.' I truly believe that," Henderson said.

He calls it his inventory, his total roundup of the facts, figures, rise, fall and ongoing recovery of Hollywood Henderson, football-playing fool. "Out of Control" is an X-rated account of a man who made the most out of his life after humble beginnings, then got trapped in the candy store and tried to eat his way out. The result: He became a sick, sick young man, a man who is only now 34 years old, and looks more like 43.

And yet, the book that he and Peter Knobler--who also co-authored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's biography, "Giant Steps"--have just published is not the book Henderson originally conceived. What he had in mind at the outset, in 1983, when anger gurgled up in him like lava, was what he himself called a "tattletale" story, a tell-all on the order of Bob Woodward's book about John Belushi, with no names changed to protect the innocent.

"What I set out to do was name about 15 or 20 of the biggest stars in the United States and say, 'Hey, I snorted coke with that guy, and this is where we did it, and this is what we were doing when we did it,' " Henderson said.

Treatment for drug addiction and alcoholism cleared his mind and convinced him to take a different tack, concentrating more on the life story of Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson of Austin, Tex., bad boy, fatherless child, good-looking kid, nowhere man, obscure college kid who came to be one of America's foremost professional football players and celebrities.

Even so, "Out of Control" might have them squirming. From his boudoir gang-tackling with Too Tall Jones, to his ferocious assessment of Earl Campbell and Randy Grossman, to his critical finger-pointing at Tom Landry and Bill Walsh, to his dallying with a Pointer sister, to his partying with Richard Pryor, to his declaration that Mike Ditka instructed him to hammer the physically deformed kicker Tom Dempsey, this book surely does name names, right down to the flab on Phyllis George's legs.

There are some very funny off-the-cuff comments strewn about, also, like the time: "I hit Archie Griffin so hard, I knocked the Heisman Trophy off his dresser at home."

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