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September 18, 2014

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Thomas Henderson’s odyssey is a tale made for Hollywood

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson follows through on a tee shot on Day 1 of the 2011 Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational at Shadow Creek Golf Course on March 31, 2011.

The Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament gala at Aria’s Pinyon Ballroom on Friday night was quite the humdinger.

Click to enlarge photo

Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson watches a tee shot on Day 1 of the 2011 Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational at Shadow Creek Golf Course on March 31, 2011.

Henderson's pitch, part 1

Henderson's pitch, part 2

Henderson's pitch, part 3

More than 1,000 guests reveled in an event that likely cost in the high six figures, maybe more. The desert buffet alone would have carried the party on its own. Even hotel officials who have seen all variety of events in Vegas were nonplussed at the scope of what Jordan’s tournament unleashed on the resort. One attendee says he walked into the ballroom and literally stopped in his tracks, not knowing where to turn.

Former NFL great and tournament participant Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson stopped by, of course.

And he was in bed by 11:30. He had a 9 a.m. tee time Saturday. He made that, easily.

“I walk through and see everything, smell it, but it’s just not a part of my life,” Henderson says in conversation at a shaded table in the VIP area of the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational at Shadow Creek Golf Course. “It’s easy. I’m up at 7, no hangover, no regrets -- regrets are avoidable.”

But a shaky round of golf isn’t always so. Henderson and his playing partner, boxer Winky Wright, were 4-over on the front nine and 4-over on the back nine in Saturday’s first celebrity-only round. The leaders entering today's final round are Michael Jordan and his ex-Bulls teammate Toni Kucoc, at 4-under par. Saints QB Drew Brees and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky are next at 1-under par.

Hollywood and Winky will have to tear up Shadow Creek today to contend.

“It was rough out there,” Henderson says of Saturday’s round.

Henderson plays 20 hours a week these days, calling the game a “healthy distraction.” He knows all about distractions, healthy and otherwise. The former Dallas Cowboys linebacker whose mouth ran as fast as his legs, who famously said Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw “couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘t,’ " is fortunate to be on this side of the grass today. His distractions were once the triple-bogey of life: alcohol, cocaine and marijuana.

The man always tried to live up to that flashy nickname, give him credit for that. Hollywood’s triumphs always had room for his substance abuse -- highlights of the Cowboys’ victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XVII showed Henderson crisscrossing the gridiron with an inhaler filled with liquid cocaine tucked in the waistline of his silver Cowboys uniform pants.

That was hardly Hollywood’s bottom, though. His alcoholism and drug abuse careened out of control for several years thereafter until his career ended with the Miami Dolphins in 1981. A broken bone in his neck during a preseason game formally ended his attempt at rehab. A rehab visit in that same year failed to stick. He believed that he didn’t qualify for such assistance. He finally checked into the Care Unit in Orange, Calif., on Nov. 8, 1983.

“I’ve been clean and sober now for 27 years,” he says, making that assertion seemingly to quell his own disbelief at how long he has been free of drugs and alcohol. “My attorney dropped me off, and by then cocaine had taken me to such a back alley street. It took me from the penthouse to the crack house.”

Henderson has since led a remarkable existence, and that’s even discounting his invitation to play in Jordan’s swank celebrity event in Las Vegas (the two have known each other for 10 years). In the mid-1980s and through the 1990s, he was one of the more effective public speakers on the recovery circuit, fulfilling 25 such commitments a year at 12-step conventions and meetings, rehab centers, even college campuses. He’s released a series of recovery films, the most recent titled “Yes, I’m Still Clean,” to uniformly answer the question he was once asked in an e-mail from a man in a detox center.

Henderson’s series is used across the country to provide help to prison inmates whose abuses helped land them in lockup. Henderson himself served prison time, 28 months, pleading no contest to drug, weapons and sexual-assault charges. Having confessed his transgressions to anyone who cared to hear his story (even writing a nakedly honest letter of apology published in the Dallas Morning News), Henderson has been active in that world ever since.

Not that he’s particularly preachy about his life’s path.

“Twelve-step programs, all of them, are for people who want them. We shouldn’t shove our elbow down someone’s throat with sobriety,” he says. “I’ve been lucky, in 27 years, to have worked with a lot of people. … But I don’t try to tell anybody what to do, or impose my current behavior on them. I just say, ‘I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs.’ I don’t care about what other people are doing.”

Even if that were the balance of Henderson’s penthouse-to-crack-house-and-back story, it’s a fairly remarkable odyssey. But in an almost inexplicable twist of fate, Henderson played the Texas State Lottery's "quick pick" in March 2000 and won.

Ten million dollars.

That’s after taxes. The actual $10 million check Henderson received was the cash equivalent of the $28 million total prize Henderson would have received if he’d chosen instead to take the award over 25 years. He still easily recites the numbers: 5, 8, 17, 35, 38, 41.

The night he learned he hit the lottery, Henderson made a run to 7-Eleven for a sausage and egg biscuit, a few powdered doughnuts, a pint of milk, went home and crawled into bed. His first big purchase was a 4-year-old Mercedes-Benz sedan.

“Yeah, I bought a used car, but what’s really funny is, I was doing really well even before winning the lottery,” he says, laughing. “I was doing really, really well with my films and lectures. I was already blessed.”

Still is, too. It’s a true Hollywood story.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow "Kats With the Dish" at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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