A '70s Burnout Lights Up Roseanne
BONNIE SHERIDAN HAS NO DOUBTS about why she was cast as the hard-boiled, motorcycle-mama waitress on TV's hitcom Roseanne. "I think it's real clear," she says, "that I've been around the block."
Fact is, Sheridan, 47, has circled whole cities of trouble since her days as the bawdy, bluesy half of the early '70s rock duo Delaney & Bonnie. But sitting now with husband Danny Sheridan, 39, in their Encino, Calif., home, she shows few scars from her stormy first marriage to ex-partner Delaney Bramlett or from the fearful addictions that had once brought her close to suicide. Clean and sober for almost two years, the onetime rock star gives credit to Sheridan for her survival—and to her friend Roseanne Arnold for giving her work.
Bonnie and Roseanne first met in 1990 at a rehab program fund-raiser. "I have all Bonnie's albums, when she was with Delaney and when she went solo," says Arnold. "I used to play her records and pretend I was singing. So when I met her, I was like, 'Oh, my God, that is my idol.' " Written into the Roseanne cast just a few weeks later, Sheridan, too, quickly found a kindred spirit. "It's not like me and Roseanne go out bumpin' asses every night, but we're buds," she says. "She's got the balls to tell you the truth. I do too."
The daughter of a hard-living steelworker and his wife, the former Bonnie Lynn O'Farrell has always followed her own compass. Raised in Granite City, Ill., with an extended family that included four half-and step-siblings, she was still in Buster Browns when her father began packing her off to honky-tonks on weekday nights. "I was 5 or 6," she says, recalling the journeys home afterward. "My daddy'd be blind drunk, and I'd stand on the seat beside him and sing and help drive the damn car so we didn't crash."
In her early teens she began traveling solo, sneaking off to the clubs in nearby East St. Louis where, one night, she saw Ike and Tina Turner onstage. "She was fabulous," she says of Tina, "sweating, skin burgundy-colored and her veins popping out of her neck. I thought, 'I want to do what she's doing to me.' And I knew I could do it. I sensed that power within me."
Soon that power got put to the test. At 15, she took her first paying gig, and by 19 she had "sung St. Louis dry" and moved to L.A. To pay the rent, she hustled pool, cadged singing jobs and, one night in 1967, found herself performing at the opening of a bowling alley. There she met Bramlett, guitarist on the mid-'60s TV show Shindig. Seven days later the couple were married, and by the time they cut their first album the following year, Sheridan was eight months pregnant with the first of two daughters.
The LP went nowhere, but subsequent albums would win critical raves and establish the couple as rock's most sought-after duo. But by this time, the marriage was badly out of tune. In 1970, on the eve of a concert tour, the duo's backup band abruptly quit. "Delaney and I were abusive to each other," she says. "We fought a lot—heavy-duty physical stuff. It wasn't nice to be around, and I'm sure it wasn't fun to watch."
Marital woes were one problem; drugs became another. "We were introduced to cocaine, and cocaine did to us what it does to people," says Bonnie. "It destroyed us." In 1972 she finally walked out, leaving Delaney and his mother with her own daughters, Suzanne, then 5, and Rebecca, 3, and the two daughters Delaney had brought to the marriage, Michelle and Mikkol.
Four years later, suffering a severe bout of Christmas blues over the failed marriage and her absent children, Sheridan hit bottom during a visit to the Juliette, Ga., farm of Gregg Allman, with whom she often performed. With even her friend Allman gone for the holiday, she hauled a sawed-off shotgun into a remote field, "propped it up between my knees and put the barrel in my mouth," she says. "Then I had a vision. I saw myself shooting myself, the back of my head blowing off and blood going every where...and my two children, who were real little then, scream out, 'Mom! Mom! Mom! I fired the gun up in the air and called the hospital."
Even though she soon resumed performing, she continued to struggle with booze, pills and cocaine through most of the next decade. Her frequent falls off the wagon were finally broken by Danny, a bassist and songwriter she began seeing in 1983. "I'd cry to him, fight with him, tell him that I wanted to be sober but couldn't do it," she says. "He believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself."
Five years later the couple married. Concedes Danny: "It took a lot of patience to wait for her to find out she could live a sober life and that she was good, that somewhere in there was a person who was talented and didn't need all that other stuff."
Bonnie, who now follows a 12-step recovery program, would eventually find talents even beyond her singing. In 1987 she landed her first acting role, making a one-shot appearance on TV's Fame. A second, meatier role—as a lesbian bartender in Oliver Stone's The Doors—came last year, and then Roseanne.
Off-camera, there is a lawsuit over royalties and song rights to settle with her ex-husband, who still occasionally performs, and hard feelings to smooth with daughters Suzanne, 25, a waitress, and Rebecca, 23, an aspiring rock singer. But she and her daughters are in friendly contact, and, says Sheridan proudly, between her own two kids and her two stepdaughters, "there's not a dud in the bunch."
Meanwhile, Bonnie has plenty to keep her busy. Between acting turns, she partners with Danny in the Bandaloo Doctors, an L.A. rock band that is already weighing recording-contract offers. As a performer, she still thinks of herself as a musician first, an actor second. "When I get onstage, it's mine," she says. "I haven't gotten to that place in acting yet." But that's coming too, and, like her much-traveled TV character, Bonnie has come to terms with who she was, and is. "You can't go back and change the past," she says. "All you can do is say you're sorry. I've done that. Now I'm just taking advantage of having a future."
TODD GOLD in Los Angeles