Making Bonaduce
The notorious star cultivates his radio career back where it all began
by Stephanie Twining

It’s a Tuesday morning in January, and Danny Bonaduce is relaying a story to the listeners of his morning radio show on 94WYSP. Naked photos of the Broomall-born former child star have landed on the desk of a tabloid editor, and she’s not even going to bother printing them—it’s nothing people haven’t seen before.

“I just don’t have a skeleton in my closet or a secret to be kept,” Bonaduce tells me over the phone later that day.

It’s true. There’s really nothing you can say about him that hasn’t already been said. He himself will be the first to tell you that yes, he had drug and alcohol problems; yes, he was arrested for assault; yes, he slashed his wrists on reality TV.

The one thing that people don’t know about Bonaduce, is that he’s actually a really nice guy.

“People wonder what I’m going to do when I walk into a room,” he says. “You can see it. You can see them looking at you with one eye like you are going to set the house on fire. And the magic trick I seem to do is when I leave, they go, ‘Wow, you’re really nice. Will you come back over sometime?’ That’s the thing that surprises people.”

The 2005 reality show Breaking Bonaduce, which centered on his failing marriage to now ex-wife Gretchen Hillmer, is mostly to blame for the bad-boy reputation. When Bonaduce would do something so outrageous—like locking himself in the bathroom and slitting his wrists with a razor—producers would encourage him to top himself, not stop himself.

“It was such a big hit, and it just kept going further and further and further,” Bonaduce says. “By the time I figured I couldn’t keep topping it, that somebody was going to get hurt, people I’d known my whole life were actually frightened of me. I really went out on a limb on that show.”

In an effort to save his career, the father of two wrote, produced and starred in another hit reality show, I Know My Kid’s a Star, where he taught child actors and their parents how to manage their money and careers and avoid becoming yet another cliché.

Bonaduce’s maniac persona still follows him wherever he goes, but he insists that in actual reality, he lives a quiet, boring life. He lives a 4-minute walk from the radio station’s Old City studio and names fishing and reading as his favorite hobbies.

But then, during our interview, his other line beeps in.

“Nobody ever calls me, so it must be the boss,” he says.  A minute later he returns. It was Hulk Hogan. “We’re friends,” he explains. “He just took over TNA [Wrestling on Spike TV], and my guess is that he wants me to wrestle for him.”

A boring life, indeed.

Before he was cast as smart-alecky middle child Danny Partridge on the 1970s series The Partridge Family, Bonaduce’s family lived modestly in Delaware County—first in Broomall, and later in a converted 19th century schoolhouse in Birchrunville. His late father, Joe, worked at the Philadelphia Zoo and then moved the family to Los Angeles to become a writer and producer for such sitcoms as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show and One Day at a Time.

Although the Bonaduces now live within 10 miles of each other in Los Angeles, Danny is finding that family get-togethers are more frequently in the Philadelphia area now that he’s back. The family visits usually follow the same routine. First, they drive out to the schoolhouse, which is the first house Bonaduce remembers calling home. Then they dine at the Kimberton Inn, and, of course, they make a stop at the Philadelphia Zoo.

“I lived in Los Angeles most of my life, but all our traditions really started here,” Bonaduce says. “My family comes to visit me in Philadelphia, all of a sudden I have traditions I didn’t know about.”

After two years on The Partridge Family, followed by a period of drug abuse, bankruptcy and living out of his car, Bonaduce returned to Havertown to live with his aunt. In 1988, he launched a new career as a radio talk show personality at Philadelphia’s Eagle 106. He went on to have successful radio shows in Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Los Angeles, and finally returned to Philly in November 2008. His show here continues to gain fans at an even pace, which he says he actually prefers to the hoopla and rollercoaster ratings he’d received in other cities.

“When I went to Chicago or places like that, I was met at the airport by the press asking about what the show was going to be like,” he says. “But I was born here, I started my first radio show here, my career started here. I used to do interviews every summer during The Partridge Family when I would come back home to visit my family. So the fanfare that I would usually get when I come to a new city was much less this time.

“At first I went, ‘Oh man, is this going to be like you can’t be a prophet in your own hometown? Am I in trouble?’ But we started off in a pretty bad position, and it’s gone up every single month since.”

He’s also still writing and pitching television shows— his latest idea would have required the participation of his fiancée, Amy Railsback, a 27-year-old former school teacher who now manages his career, but to Bonaduce’s dismay, she wants nothing to do with TV. His children, Dante and Isabella, from his 16-year marriage to Hillmer, are also disenchanted with celebrity life.

Bonaduce maintains that his first priority is radio. “Radio is what I do,” he says. “Television shows come and go, but I’ve been on the air every single day of my life for the last 20 years.”

And in Philly, he says, he’s ready to stay put.