Spinning Off His Partridge Past, Danny Bonaduce Rocks Philly as a Raunchy Midnight Deejay

updated 02/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's 11 P.M. at Philadelphia's WEGX-FM, and the radio station's top-rated disc jockey snickers at a caller's query about The Partridge Family: Whatever happened to Keith, the TV family's oldest son? "Keith's going out with Marcia Brady," comes the snide reply. And what of little Tracy? inquires the caller. Mr. Charm chortles, then shoots a cheap one-liner: "She's working the corner of Hollywood and Vine." No need to ask about Danny. The quick-witted whiz kid of the TV bunch is now the tart-tongued talent behind the radio mike.

"I feel as famous here as I did in L.A.," brags Danny Bonaduce (pronounced Bon-a-du-chee). At 29, he has dropped some of the pubescent poundage, but that red-headed mane remains as thick as the voice that could drown out a jet engine. Since his December debut on Philly's late-night airwaves, listeners have learned that years of obscurity haven't dented Danny's cocky demeanor. Yet in the 15 years since the Partridge siblings last boarded their psychedelic tour bus, he has survived a false marriage, a drug bust and the kind of career plunge that reduces a guy to cutting ribbons at supermarket openings for $500 a pop. "I don't know how he dealt with it," says his former TV sister Susan Dey. "The Partridge Family was a No. 1 show, and Danny—that little redhead—carried it. But as he grew up, they said, 'You're not funny anymore. You're not cute anymore.' "

His fame has faded, but Bonaduce wants you to know he's not lacking consolation. "You wouldn't believe the girls here," he says, smiling at the success of his Thursday night "Date the Deejay" gimmick. Would-be dates have tempted him with everything from descriptions of their lingerie to letters accompanied by nude self-portraits. "It got out of control," concedes Bonaduce. "It was a lot of fun, but it was really time-consuming and expensive—a life of first dates." And after each, he had to return to the suburban home of his mom. Until recently, Danny was living with Betty Bonaduce, a freelance writer who moved back East from the San Fernando Valley after she and Danny's father, Joe, divorced in 1974.

Taking over Betty's floral couch with the jaunty self-confidence of a junior-high jock, Danny studies his cowboy boots and recalls the days when he was 12 and the show was Top 10. "I was hitting puberty and hanging out with David Cassidy," he says. "That was good for me."

"Wasn't great for me" counters Betty, who worked with Joe as a writer for the original Bill Cosby Show. "We had 21-year-old girls hanging around our house all night. I was the witch who wouldn't let them in. 'Don't you like us? We're nice girls. Why can't we have Danny?' Because he's mine!"

Well, not completely: Mom didn't catch all the girls. "My window opened right to the street," confides Danny with a smirk. "They'd open their shirts and have notes written on their bodies—DANNY, WE LOVE YOU. I put my autograph on a lot of flesh."

Unlike his two older brothers and sister—who followed their parents' example and became TV writers in L.A.—Danny never felt compelled to write much beyond his signature. So when The Partridge Family broke up, he became one of many '70s sitcom casualties taking The Love Boat to Fantasy Island. More recently, he's appeared on Moonlighting and Spenser: for Hire, as well as in the occasional B-movie. But even when he sank into "the dregs of show business"—the supermarket openings, singing on cruise ships—he kept his brash optimism. "I just thought of it as not being rich," says Bonaduce.

Danny was 21 when the estimated $350,000 he made from the show ran out. "A lot of people wonder what happened to the money," he says, and asks the next question himself: "Did drugs happen to the money? No." The suspicion is there, he knows, because in 1985, after running a light in West Hollywood, he was arrested for possession of four grams of cocaine. The charge was dismissed after Bonaduce completed a drug-counseling program. "I make it a real point to let people know that the lowest part of my life came when I was playing with stuff that's supposed to make you feel good," says Bonaduce. "One night a week I'd go out and take drugs with my friends. I was never home in the dark doing them. But drugs never, ever did anything good for me."

Not long after his drug arrest, Bonaduce met a Japanese woman, Setsuko Hattori, in an L.A. restaurant. Three days later, he says, he married her, in part so she could get an immigration card that permitted her to stay and work in the U.S. "The next day I'm sitting at home watching TV, and there's a knock at the door. There she is with her luggage. I went, 'Yeah?' And she said, 'I am wife.' I told her, 'You got the green card, you're going to be fine.' And as I'm trying to get her out the door, I realize that she's pretty cute. Then I realize I'm really hungry and I have nothing clean to wear and I have a wife right there in front of me. What the hell am I doing? 'Unpack!' I told her."

His family found such conduct more curious than callous. "I thought it was very strange," says Betty of the marriage, "but Danny does a lot of strange things. Besides, I'm one of those people, if you can't change it, why try to fight it?" She didn't have to; the couple separated six months later and their divorce became final last year. Recently, having tired of sampling Philly's singles, Danny set up house with singer Debbie Strauss, 21.

Five nights a week, Bonaduce signs on for his 10 P.M.-to-2 A.M. slot with The Partridge Family theme song, "Come On, Get Happy"—then provides living proof that such sitcom bliss can be found in life. Hired two months ago—after a wisecracking guest appearance on the station's morning show grabbed the ear of WEGX program director Charlie Quinn—Bonaduce has just been signed to a short-term contract. "I'm one of the luckiest men alive," he says, "because I basically have no skills, and if I had to get a job and function in the regular world, I couldn't do it. I'm only qualified to be a celebrity."

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