Saturday, April 29, 2000
There's little 'Hollywood'
left in Henderson
By JAIME ARON
AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN (AP) - Forget for a moment everything
you've ever heard about Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson.
Forget about him being a first-round draft
pick of the Dallas Cowboys and playing in three Super Bowls in
his first four years.
Forget that he snorted cocaine on the sideline
during a Super Bowl, then became the first NFL player to confess
his addiction, seek treatment and return to pro football.
Forget his arrest for having sex with two
underaged girls and the two years, four months in prison that
finally got him to sober up.
Even forget that he recently won a $28 million
Texas Lottery jackpot.
The past tells little about the man he is
Meet the new Thomas Henderson: Philanthropist.
Entrepreneur. Drug-free for more than 16 years.
"I know how far out there Thomas was,
and if he continued to be out there he wouldn't even be alive
today," former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson said. "But
he's turned his life around and he's using the negatives, the
adversity, the obstacles he had and he's turning them into positives.
"I had a lot of teammates I was proud
to say I played with. At the time I played with Thomas, I wasn't
proud to say that. Now, without hesitation, I'm proud to say that
Thomas Henderson is a friend of mine."
Several days a week, the 47-year-old Henderson
climbs into his truck, drives to East Austin and parks on a hill
overlooking his old high school football field.
On some visits, he never unbuckles his seat
belt. He just lets his eyes drift down the sloping grass to the
seven-lane running track and the green playing field inside that
He gazes at the new bleachers, the new lights,
the new scoreboard. Anderson High closed in 1971, but the ticket
booth and fieldhouse shine with fresh coats of yellow and black
The Yellowjacket logo is on a sign at the
front gate and is more prominent on the fieldhouse. That sneering
insect is as menacing now as it was when Henderson wore it, or
when Dick "Night Train" Lane had it on his helmet a
Odds are, somebody is there. Maybe a youth
football team. Possibly a track team or just some locals trying
to stay in shape.
Henderson just stares and smiles, hoping
nobody sees him. This place is his gift, you see, the vision he
turned into a reality long before buying that slip of paper with
5-8-17-35-38-41 on it.
Where others saw an abandoned field overrun
by 6-foot-high grass and cracking asphalt, Henderson saw a place
where kids could play and stay out of the kind of trouble he got
into as a youth.
"I just look at it and say, `That's
good,'" he said. "Then I pull off and go home."
Henderson's mother was three weeks shy of
her 16th birthday when he was born. His father, a 17-year-old
enlistee at a nearby Air Force Base, was shipped to Korea once
his superiors learned of the pregnancy, and he never developed
a bond with his son.
The early influences for young Thomas were
drug dealers, pool hustlers, drunks, pimps and thieves. He saw
his best friend, an accomplished burglar, shot to death playing
Russian Roulette in the high school parking lot.
Henderson knew he was part of a bad scene,
so he moved to Oklahoma, where he became a star defensive end
in high school and at Langston University.
In 1975, the Cowboys made him the 18th overall
draft pick. The team had built a dynasty by finding big-time players
at small schools, but it usually took them in later rounds.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Henderson became
such a good linebacker that Dick Butkus once called him one of
the league's best. Lawrence Taylor was so impressed that he wore
No. 56, Henderson's number.
Being a Cowboy gave Henderson access to
whatever he wanted: women, cars, drugs. And he wanted it all.
Early in his third year, teammates dubbed
him "Hollywood" because of his limousine-loving lifestyle.
The name stuck because, well, it fit a guy who once went to the
Grammys with one of the Pointer Sisters and snorted cocaine with
Football remained Henderson's main stage,
but his interviews could be even more entertaining. Before Dallas
played Pittsburgh in the 1979 Super Bowl, he said: "Terry
Bradshaw couldn't spell `cat' if you spotted him the `c' and the
Henderson's career peaked at that time.
Then drugs slowly took over his life. He'd been using for years,
but now he couldn't stop.
He learned how to get even higher during
that Super Bowl week by inhaling liquefied cocaine through a nose-spray
bottle. He played against the Steelers with the bottle inside
a pocket on his uniform pants and took whiffs during the game.
The Cowboys lost 35-31.
The next season, Dallas cut him just before
Thanksgiving after a drug-induced rage.
He was in and out of San Francisco without
playing a game early in 1980, then spent the rest of that season
with the Houston Oilers. He was hurt, high or both most of his
time in Houston.
Henderson realized he needed help, so he
asked the NFL. The league sent him to a rehab center in Arizona,
but it didn't work.
The Miami Dolphins thought he was clean
and signed him in 1981. In the final preseason game, he broke
his neck and his career was over. He was 28.
Despite being unemployed, addicted and nearly
broke, Henderson managed to keep going for two years - until November
1983, when he was arrested on charges of having sex with two minors.
Henderson made things worse by trying to
pay them to get the charges dropped. He then pleaded no contest
to sexual assault and bribery and was sentenced to prison for
four years, eight months.
After serving half his term, Henderson walked
out a changed man. He'd kicked his habit and dedicated his life
to making sure others got off drugs.
Since returning to Austin, Henderson has
become known as a sort of guardian angel. He's dropped into soup
kitchens and given out $1,000, two bucks at a time, and he's bumped
into a bus salesman and insisted on picking up half of a church's
"As long as I've been in Austin - and
that's since 1941 - I don't know anybody that's done more for
East Austin than Hollywood Henderson," said Rooster Andrews,
owner of a sporting-goods chain.
Henderson also does motivational speaking,
using his gift for speech to tell his own story. He wants kids
to learn from his mistakes and convicts to see there is a way
He sells tapes and videos of his speeches
and charges businesses $15,000 per appearance. His fee was $7,500
before he won the lottery, but now it all goes to his charity,
East Side Youth Services & Street Outreach. Besides, he figures,
the increase is worth it because his story is now twice as good.
Henderson made his first post-lottery speech
a few weeks ago at Freedom Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas.
He worked in his newfound riches to add to his do-gooder message.
"He was captivating," said the
Rev. Mack T. Flemmings.
Yet not everybody feels warm-and-fuzzy about
the new Henderson.
Skeptics wonder whether his transformation
is real. His critics aren't the vocal type, just folks who hear
about his deeds and instinctively look for ulterior motives.
"I guess he has to live with things
like that because of his past," Pearson said. "But the
people who think those things certainly don't know what Thomas
Henderson is all about now. Those of us who have seen it don't
have to be convinced.
"I'm not trying to make Thomas out
to be a saint, but some of the things he does are saintly."
Henderson pays no mind to detractors.
"What people may think of me is not
my business," he said in a soft, serious tone. "What
I think of me is pretty important because I'm the one who has
to live in here.
"I have become the guy I am because
of what I went through, but I am not my mistakes. I'm pretty pleased
with who I've become."
Many doubters became believers in 1997 when
Henderson finished the youth football field and decided to start
on the track. He knew it would take a lot of money, so he decided
to do something radical - a weeklong hunger strike.
"People thought he was crazy,"
said Howard Ware, track coach of Huston-Tillotson College and
the Austin Striders junior Olympic team, both of which train at
the track. "There wasn't really much support at first. But
once they saw he was serious, then Bam!"
Henderson raised $250,000 and used it to
build the rubberized track, which was finished last year.
People don't call him Hollywood anymore.
At least, not anyone who knows him.
"Hollywood was sort of an alter ego
of drug addiction and women. Hollywood never played football.
He was hanging out with Marvin Gaye and doing wild things,"
He can't completely shun it, though. It
gives him name recognition in the business world, allowing him
to avoid what he calls the abyss of all the Tom Hendersons out
"I can't have it both ways," he
Henderson sounds as if he's back in his
"Hollywood" mode when he says he always believed he
would win the lottery. Spending $20,000 on tickets over the last
five years certainly improved his odds.
"I sort of had a cosmic understanding
that I was going to win," he said. "Sometimes, it'd
be like $70 million and I would sit up at night and do the math
to figure out what I'd do with the money. And I've done exactly
what I said I would do in my dry run."
On March 22, Henderson went to Nau's Pharmacy
to pick up some medicine to help fight bronchitis. He saw the
jackpot was $28 million and asked for $100 in tickets.
The next evening, he was driving to a friend's
house after a round of golf when his ex-wife called to say the
winning ticket was sold at Nau's. His stack of tickets was still
on the front seat of his truck, where he'd left them the night
The magic numbers, picked by a computer,
were on the fourth of five lines on the eighth of his 20 tickets.
A week later, he got a check for $14,491,235
because he chose a lump-sum payout rather than the full amount
over 25 years. After taxes, there's $10,433,690 for the newly
formed HHH 56 Investments Ltd.
The Hs are all Henderson, one each for him
and his daughters, 21-year-old Thomesa Holly and 6-year-old Dalis.
Thomesa has a 21-month-old daughter named Taylor, making Henderson
"I prefer Big Daddy," he said,
He remains close with his mother, Violet
Faye, taking care of her with the money he's made - or won - over
Henderson estimates he's given $400,000
to friends and family, mostly in $10,000 chunks because that's
the most anyone can receive without being taxed. The checks are
sent with a note that reads, "Don't ask me for any more money."
He said the most satisfying gift went to
someone whose name he didn't even know: Mike Huffman, the cashier
at Nau's Pharmacy who sold the winning ticket.
"I was just amazed," said Huffman,
who at 49 plans to use the money to return to college after a
22-year layoff and hopes to become an elementary school teacher.
"I told him I knew he was a football player, but now he's
my favorite lottery player."
Henderson has done little for himself. No
new house, yacht or remote island. Not even a new set of golf
His biggest purchase was a 1996 Mercedes
600 sedan that he bought from a friend.
"It's the model I've always wanted,
but never wanted to stretch out and buy," he said.
Don't get the impression that Henderson
has become shy.
He still considers himself among the best
linebackers in NFL history. He estimates that if he were playing
today, his signing bonus alone would be more than $10 million
with annual salaries of around $4 million. His biggest Dallas
contract paid $650,000 over five years; he was cut three years
In general, though, Henderson's ego seems
At Anderson High, the only hints of his
involvement are a sign that lists T.H. Henderson as the developer
and a fieldhouse inscription that reads: East Side Field, Est.
1994 by E.S.Y.S.S.O. - T.H.H.
He picked up his lottery winnings without
holding the traditional winner's news conference, turned down
dozens of offers to be on national TV and says he's not interested
in making a movie about his life.
"The only film I want to do now is
one my little industrial films that would be called `Alcohol Doesn't
Come With Instructions,'" he said.
He also has no plans to update his 1987
autobiography, "Out of Control - Confessions of an NFL Casualty."
Henderson tried running for a city council
seat in January, then learned he was ineligible because of his
He plans to spoil his daughters, play golf
and continue making donations.
He wants to subsidize Huston-Tillotson's
athletic budget to cover food, clothing and equipment costs, and
he and Thomesa will soon start a business to provide low-cost
housing for first-time home buyers.
He'd also like to persuade pro athletes
to do more for their communities than signing autographs and checks.
"Your energy, your time, your money
and your labor is the most important contribution you can make,"
And there is still work to be done at East
Side Field - more bleachers, more storage and a playground for
children too young for football or track.
"Why did I do all this?" Henderson
said. "I don't quite know where the notion came from to grab
a shovel and build something that doesn't belong to me.
"But I understand now that it's the
greatest thing I've ever done. Playing for the Cowboys is not
the greatest thing, winning the lottery is not the greatest thing.
Building that facility, which will be there when I'm dead and
gone, that's the greatest accomplishment of my life."
All content copyright 2000,
AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News
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