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Capacity for controversy

Danny `Bad Boy' Bonaduce's shtick savvy makes him Hollywood's unlikeliest survivor.

July 31, 2006|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

DANNY BONADUCE growls and purrs more than he speaks, carrying his tightly wound self as if spring-loaded. And this is on a good day, in a cool, dark soundstage in Hollywood, where he is doing his best impersonation of a game-show host.

He lobbed jokey questions at a trio of contestants about the melodramas of, it turns out, some of his friends and neighbors -- Ozzy Osbourne, Courtney Love and Janice Dickinson -- looking far more executive than usual in a dark suit. This was Bonaduce as the star of "Starface," a celebrity-gossip challenge that premieres Tuesday on GSN, a game show cable channel. It's a striking shift from the vodka-guzzling, wrist-slashing, tantrum-throwing train wreck of a man depicted in last fall's VH1 reality series "Breaking Bonaduce." The irony of this latest role is lost on no one, least of all Bonaduce.

"This is the weirdest show I've ever done," he said during a lunch break, "by leaps and bounds."

Actually, weird -- or, more specifically, alarming, cringe-inducing self-exploitation -- is what Bonaduce does best. Still, after all these years, he's strangely compelling. He possesses an odd mix of rage, self-loathing, intellect, even romance that is irresistibly entertaining on the one hand, yet unsettlingly removed from reality on the other.

He has become so attuned to clever one-liners that his language is peppered with tidy, often exaggerated, sound bites. He prides himself on never having uttered the phrase "no comment" to a journalist. Yet he's so admittedly confused about his identity that even his closest friends don't feel they really know him. He may be hosting a game show, but this is, after all, the same guy who punched out Barry "Greg Brady" Williams on a show called "Celebrity Boxing," who seriously considered goading a poisonous snake into biting him on "The Other Half" and who had the name of a radio-station general manager tattooed on his backside.

Bonaduce is perpetually in comeback mode, like so many other entertainers "in recovery," rebounding from drugs and alcohol or his own bad judgment. He said he's been "in jail, all bloody, chained up to people," but he has spent more time in rehab than in police custody. Nothing has stalled his career for long. Show business has an insatiable appetite for self-destruction, and Bonaduce has learned how to make that work in his favor.

"People seem to be willing to give Danny chance after chance," said his wife and manager, Gretchen Bonaduce. "I think for some reason he just brings that out in people. You want him to succeed."

As Bonaduce sees it, July has been a phenomenal month. He's finding his rhythm on "Starface." He has learned that A&E will air his biography later this year. Another TV show he and Gretchen are shopping has garnered some interest. High-profile radio offers are starting to roll in. He was the highlight of the Television Critics Assn. conference in Pasadena on the day he appeared. Though Dan Rather had wept before a roomful of reporters, Bonaduce made the headlines.

But all this good news is relatively recent. "Breaking Bonaduce 2," set to air in October, just wrapped, and it was filmed during a period that was yet another rocky one for the family. So much so that Bonaduce said he insisted that VH1 keep a crew on standby until the show airs so any new melodrama could be added to the finale. (A VH1 publicist declined to comment.)

For one thing, he developed online relationships with about 20 women across the country whom he'd met on MySpace .com. The correspondence got "very personal," he said, and his wife likened it to yet another infidelity. Bonaduce, speaking like a master of rationalization, saw it this way: "Several of the women asked if we could meet, and I said, 'No. No. Never. Of course not. First of all, people don't really speak like this in real life. You know how awkward would it be for us to talk this way in public? And second, I'm married! I can't talk like this to you and meet you! This is a thing on the computer!' "

Though he said he would "crumble away and die" if Gretchen ever left him, Bonaduce's amusement at this drama is unmistakable -- and a little suspicious.

Things have since settled into a predictable routine, he said. He's been sober for about a year, and he and his wife are still in counseling. But, he added, all the therapy hasn't given him any more self-awareness.

"I would be very comfortable doing some type of show about this crazy, drug-addled guy that flirts and does all this stuff," he said. "If you want to do a television show about a guy who does none of that stuff, which currently I do not, I have almost limited knowledge about that guy. I have no idea what my current life looks like. I just know what it's not."

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