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Hollywood Henderson Went Through Hell and Lived to Tell About It

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.

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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.

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“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.”

One thing Hollywood Henderson always could do, of course, was comment. His was a voice that could be heard on and off the field, a mouth that always had something to say. When he played, the man was a breath of fresh air and a breath of hot air, simultaneously. His own description? “I could talk a hungry cat off a fish truck.”

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Dope was his undoing. In the locker room, if he wasn’t inside a washroom stall taking a smoke or powdering his nose, Henderson was encountering the hypodermics full of hope that got certain players through the day. Just as a fictional account of NFL life, “North Dallas Forty,” by another former Dallas Cowboy, Pete Gent, depicted, injured players were offered an insinuated choice of taking drugs or being replaced.

As Henderson recalled over lunch: “You’re sitting there crippled, sitting there hurting, sitting there hurting to the point where a grown man’s about to cry, and the doctor’s standing there with a needle, and the first trickles of whatever’s in that needle are coming out, whether it was cortisone or Xylocaine or whatever, and a coach standing there says: ‘Can you go?’ ” Or, in other words, can you play?

“And if I don’t go, that guy who I’ve been in the meeting rooms with for the last two years is going to take my job,” Henderson said.

“Rain, sleet or snow, pain or no pain, if you’re not in the hospital, you’d better play. There are a few guys who get the breaks, the Herschel Walkers, the Tony Dorsetts, the Eric Dickersons, the guys who get that break where they may say, ‘Well, he’s questionable,’ or, ‘He’s not going to play today because he’s too valuable to the franchise.’ But you take a linebacker or a lineman, the people who have to play. You see them out there with suitcases on their arms, playing with broken wrists. They gotta go.”

In the book, Henderson made it clear that the Cowboys expected him to practice even when he was recovering from hepatitis and had been told my doctors to lay off. On the other hand, it is hard to trust some of Henderson’s recollections of certain moments, because he was so drug-crazed much of the time, his head might have been playing tricks on him.

This is a man who wound up sitting by himself at 3 o’clock in the morning in the Houston Astrodome parking lot, wearing a fur coat, free-basing cocaine and screaming into the night that he knew the cops were out there in the bushes, watching him. The guy’s brain was fried rice.

Although every publisher in New York rejected his book at first, Henderson said, interest returned when it became clear that he would not be doing a “self-serving yearbook of my accomplishments in the game, like most of these other guys,” or merely a snitch book on other people’s problems. In prison, because Henderson had better access to a phone than most, he was able to spend hours dictating thoughts and recollections to his colleague.

The thing that straightened out his head most was the realization that the horror in his life involved more than hard drugs. One of the lies addicts tell themselves is that cocaine is their real problem, that marijuana and booze are just time-killers. Those who think this are begging for trouble, Henderson said.

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“This time, I know what my problem is,” he said. “Not like some of these people I’ve been reading about like Lawrence Taylor or Dwight Gooden, who are saying, ‘I can still go out and have a beer with the guys.’ I know where their minds are. I’ve been there. I was the first NFL star to go public with my addiction. I went through treatment, 28 days of it, and got out of treatment, and within an hour I was smoking a joint and drinking a beer and saying, ‘This treatment--you think it’s gonna work?’

“I told myself that beer made me urinate, and that marijuana made me eat a family-sized bag of Oreo cookies, and that coke almost killed me. But it just wasn’t true, and I know that now. All of it almost killed me.”


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