- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Forty-five years after graduating from Douglass High School, former NFL star Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson returned to his alma mater. Henderson was back in Oklahoma City to present his high school with a signed golden football and other memorabilia as a part of the NFL’s Super Bowl 50 celebration.

Before a packed crowd at the Douglass auditorium, Henderson - who earned the nickname “Hollywood” as a Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker during the 1970s for his flashy play and flamboyance - spoke about his high school and professional careers, his bout with alcoholism and cocaine, recovering and staying clean.

The man who went by Hollywood as a pro and “Wild Man” as a college player at Langston now seems to be leading a life that’s quite tame. Henderson said he’s been sober for 32 years. He plays golf and puts in time with his charity. The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1nBqY14 ) reports that he works with alcoholics and addicts while splitting time between residences in Austin and Boca Raton, Florida.

“I don’t do much much at all these days,” the 62-year-old Henderson said with a laugh.

Henderson moved from Austin to Oklahoma City as a junior in high school. He came to the area to live with his grandmother. Henderson said he made the move to escape poverty in Austin.

“My family was very, very poor. Like no toilet paper poor,” he said. “It was seven people living in about 500 square feet. I called her (his grandmother) and said, ‘Can I come live with you?’”

Due to a rule that forced high school transfers to sit out a year of athletics if they transferred to a border-state school - a rule that’s long gone - Henderson didn’t play football his junior season at Douglass. Instead, he spent the year filming the team’s games from the bleachers with his welding teacher.

“I was filming the games at the top of the stadium, and I was up there crying because I wanted to play,” Henderson said.

Henderson got that opportunity as a senior. He starred at defensive end and then walked on at Langston, where he earned NAIA All-American honors twice.

In 1975, the Cowboys selected Henderson in the first round of the NFL Draft. He quickly blossomed into a star. He was a linebacker with 4.3 speed. He became the first NFL player to dunk a football through the goalposts after scoring a touchdown.

But during that five-season stint with the Cowboys, Henderson also became dependent on alcohol and cocaine. It wasn’t uncommon for Henderson to take hits from an inhaler spiked with liquefied cocaine he hid in his pocket.

Henderson’s time in Dallas ended in 1979 after he waved a Cowboys towel at a T.V. camera in the midst of a loss to the Washington Redskins. The stunt was not well-received by Dallas coach Tom Landry, who suspended Henderson for the remainder of the season. Henderson would never suit up for the Cowboys again.

In 1980, Henderson, who at that time had gotten into free-basing, went public with his drug problem. He checked into a rehabilitation facility in Arizona. When he got out, he tried out with the 49ers, Oilers and Dolphins. His career ended for good in 1981, when he broke his neck in a preseason game with the Dolphins.

Things would get worse before they got better.

Without football, Henderson relapsed. He couldn’t stay clean. In 1983, he picked up two girls and was free-basing at his home with them. He had sex with one of the girls, who turned out to be underage. He was sentenced to four years and six months in prison and ended up serving 28 months.

Henderson weaned himself off drugs and alcohol while in jail. He didn’t have much of a choice. And when he was released in October 1986, he stayed sober for good.

“All of it took me to some bad places,” Henderson said. “And now it’s been 32 years.”

Henderson’s drug-free, post-football life has had its share of highlights. In 2000, he won $28 million in the Texas state lottery. When asked what he did on a day-to-day basis not long after winning, Henderson replied, “Not a damn thing, and I don’t start that until after lunch.”

Henderson said he still enjoys a slow-paced lifestyle. He’s made a series of educational videos that warn others about the dangers of addiction, which are displayed on the website FMSProductions.com.

Henderson said few people still refer to him as Hollywood these days. The majority of people that do are fans. Friends and family refer to him by his real name.

There are still traces of Hollywood - such as the black leather jacket, black jeans and black snakeskin boots set off by three gold chains he wore when he visited his alma mater - but it seems as if the persona is mostly gone.

“If you fall, fall on your back,” Henderson told a packed Douglass auditorium. “Because if you can look up, you can get up. And I got up.”


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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