photo by Barbara Porter
f you have ever dreamed, or at least daydreamed, about becoming a star (and who hasn’t?), there are two direct routes that can hasten your journey: shamelessly audition repeatedly for any and every reality TV show and/or marry a current, former or marginal celebrity of any stripe.
Both paths are littered with landmines: The former is a cauldron of indignity, public humiliation and rejection, and you will likely resume your place in obscurity, cursing the competitor who dashed your dreams while you labor in minimum-wage drudgery. The latter, too, is almost always a labyrinth paved with all manner of torment and abuse, and you will likely end up little more than a footnote, a mere mention in a dark, smelly corner of Wikipedia or TMZ.
If you choose the latter, there is, of course, the against-all-odds chance you may find a way to spin your experience into a jaw-dropping reality television series. You may also further extricate yourself from your co-dependent union, inspiring others while rising, phoenix-like, from the cruel clutches of (insert celebrity spouse’s name here)’s devastating death-spiral to advance your career, realize your dream of fronting your own rock band, and take your rightful place among the ex-wives of Hollywood’s star machine.
In this case, you would be Gretchen Bonaduce.
Bonaduce, you may recall, is the former wife of child star-turned-radio personality Danny Bonaduce, the wise-cracking middle-child of “Partridge Family” fame who managed to extend his 15 mintues long after its discard-by date. She has starred in or been the subject of many reality shows, but it is for her real-life marriage-meltdown to the problematic Partridge that she is most widely known—the strong but long-suffering martyr to the red-headed man-child with a catalog of disorders and self-destructive tendencies rivaled only by Charlie Sheen.
“Breaking Bonaduce” ran for two seasons on VH-1 beginning in 2005 and documented (many say exploited) the couple’s efforts to maintain their increasingly unstable marriage amid Danny’s episodic binging, which by then included several stints in rehab for a crack cocaine habit, a snowballing addiction to alcohol and an infamous encounter with a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix, the city where the Bonaduces met and married the same day after a blind date, because Gretchen would not have sex outside of marriage.
Despite (or because of) critical backlash, the show was a ratings winner and propelled the Bonaduces into reality TV orbit for two seasons before divorcing in 2007. Why lay your life bare before the camera, I asked? With candid honesty, Gretchen, now 46, admits the show represented a healthy paycheck during a difficult financial period. And while she says she and Danny were oblivious to the fact they were documenting the collapse of their marriage, she also cites the show as an unexpected gift, an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of co-dependent spouses married to addicts who find the strength to leave them.
“It was very important to me to do something important and real,” she says. “It was not about recreating or setting anything up—neither Danny nor I realized the show was actually capturing the collapse of our marriage. I truly wanted to do something that made a difference, and I know it did. I received so much mail from women who were in the same boat. To make them feel like they were not alone … that turned out to be very important to me.”
These days, Bonaduce fronts the 1980s throwback cover band Ankhesenamen, or Ankh for short, named for King Tut’s wife (who, ironically, must have suffered some celebrity-spouse angst), and is CEO and star of what could be called Gretchen Inc. Bonaduce spends most of her time promoting her Los Angeles-based band on Facebook; creating, producing and appearing in reality shows; and raising her two children, Isabella, 17, and Dante, 10.