In 1988 a crack-addicted Todd Bridges, the child-actor who played “Willis” on TV’s Diff’rent Strokes, was jailed for attempted murder in the shooting of LA drug dealer Kenneth “Tex” Clay.
In prison, Bridges was housed on murderers’ row. One of his neighbors was the infamous “Night Stalker” killer, Richard Ramirez, the satanic serial-murderer of at least thirteen people.
Bridges writes in his autobiography, Killing Willis: From Diff’rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted, that Ramirez would often attempt to intimidate him:
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.
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.
He 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.
I remember the day he 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.”
We’d like to think Ramirez’s response was a steely, soft-spoken, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”
Bridges, represented by famed defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, was eventually released and acquitted of all charges when a witness testified that he was not present at the time of the shooting. Upon release, Bridges went back to selling and using crack until eventually successfully completeing rehab.
Ramirez died of complications from B-cell lymphoma in 2013 before making it to the gas chamber.