Following the news that serial killer Richard Ramirez will be brought to life in a movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips, I was reminded of one very random, bizarre story about 'The Nightstalker'... and it involves Willis from Diff'rent Strokes.
Todd Bridges, who played Willis on the hit nostalgic sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, developed an addiction to crack cocaine that was so severe it eventually landed him in jail for attempted murder, but what happened to the actor on the inside is even more macabre.
I was recently reading Bridge's autobiography, Killing Willis, and I was shocked to learn that the troubled former child start spent time inside with Richard Ramirez, the infamous 'Night Stalker' killer. Not only that, but Ramirez would spend his time trying to intimidate Bridges whose town was plagued by the murderer when he was still at large.
Todd Bridges was jailed in 1988 after Kenneth "Tex" Clay, a prolific Los Angeles area drug dealer was shot and prosecutors argued that the former TV star and crack addict was the culprit. Bridges maintained his innocence throughout the trial and, after a witness testified that Bridges wasn't present at the shooting, he was acquitted of the crime.
The actor, who was in his early 20s at the time, was still unfortunate enough to spend some time in the prison system with the brutal Ramirez before he was released.
"The Night Stalker"
Richard Ramirez raped and murdered at least thirteen people in their own homes with a brutal force that shocked the nation, and one that had affected Bridges directly as well. In his book, Bridges wrote that:
"Richard Ramirez was a strange cat. The thing that was interesting about being in jail with him was that he had killed somebody in Northridge during the time I was living there, and I remember how scared we were after the murder. We made sure all of our windows were locked at all times, and we walked people to their cars with guns. My life had actually been touched by his crimes."
Bridges also conformed the callous and unrepentant personality that Ramirez became famous for in the press and led his judge to condemn him as capable of "cruelty, callousness, and viciousness beyond any human understanding," he wrote:
"I never found it hard to believe that he had done all the terrible things they accused him of- raping and torturing little old ladies and carving pentagrams into their skin. First of all, he was a devil worshipper. That's heavy. And then he never seemed sorry about killing all those people. That was who he really was."
But, perhaps most chillingly, Ramirez used to actively try and intimidate Bridges, who was a born again Christian after his addiction, with his satanic beliefs while they were in jail. The actor wrote that:
"He [Ramirez] used to come by my cell and shake my door really hard. He always tried to freak me out by doing things like putting the devil sign against the bars. 'I'm going to come in and get you,' he said."
Before he was released, Todd Bridges had a final revenge on Ramirez that reflects the harsh nature of prison life. The former addict wrote that:
"I remember the day he [Ramirez] found out he was going to get the gas chamber, he came back to our cellblock, and he had this real somber look on his face. He looked different, but I knew that inside he was the same monster he'd always been... "Get ready," I said and I puffed my cheeks out real big like I was holding my breath. "How long can you hold your breath? You're done."
Ironically, Ramirez never made it to the gas chamber and he died of complications from B-cell lymphoma in 2013.
After his experiences on the inside, Todd Bridges has been clean and sober for over nine years and he blames the abuse he suffered as a young child in the entertainment industry for causing him to turn to drugs. You can learn more about his life story in the short video below:
(Source: Google Books)