Known for her starring role opposite Lee Majors in The Fall Guy, Heather Thomas–who turned 66 on September 8–was poised for a hugely success Hollywood career.
But when the actor’s mother showed up on set after the show’s finale was filmed, the gorgeous blonde rushed to hospital, believing that her father had an emergency.
The family and friends who greeted her at the Santa Monica hospital let her know that her dad, Leon, was fine, and that it was her who had their concerns.
This was just the beginning of a new journey for the then 28-year-old woman, whose personal life and career completely transformed after that visit to the hospital.
Keep reading to find out what happened to the former pinup girl of the 1980s!
Gifted with the talent and natural movie star beauty that rivalled Farrah Fawcett and Heather Locklear, Heather Thomas did what she was born to do.
At only 14 the girl hosted an NBC series called Talking with a Giant, a show where she and four other teens interviewed celebrities.
Wanting to take her career to the next level–as an actor, director and writer–Thomas, now 66, then studied film and theater at UCLA, and the year before she graduated, she appeared in the short-lived comedy series, Co-Ed Fever (1979).
In 1980, the Connecticut-born actor won her first leading role in the TV series, The Fall Guy, playing the sidekick to Lee Majors, who in the 1970s, gained global recognition for his performance as Steven Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man.
Playing Jody Banks, a stuntwoman-bounty hunter on the popular action show, Thomas was adored by the male population who viewed her as a sex symbol, a title which she admits to having mixed feelings.
“There’s obligatory condescension that goes with that,” Thomas told People. “You fill that archetype, the blonde bimbo. But at that point, I was just having fun.”
Unfortunately, she was having too much fun with the inclusion of drugs, a habit that started before her role as Jody Banks.
Her substance use dates to the sixth grade when she started using drugs to maintain steady top grades. Thomas said, “I was taking acid and making straight A’s. I just thought it was mind expanding.”
As her mind evolved from child to adult, so did the drugs she consumed.
At UCLA Thomas started using cocaine and in 1981, one year into her role on The Fall Guy, her drug problems escalated.
Also, feeling like she had to live up with her sex symbol title, the 5-foot-7 Thomas became obsessed with weight, and started taking Lasix, a diuretic that can cause severe lethargy.
To counteract the lethargy, she took more cocaine for a burst of energy.
“At first I was in a honeymoon stage with the drug. I felt that I was getting a lot for my money. It enabled me to stay up all night and then work all the next day,” she said, claiming that she never used cocaine on set. “Cocaine is not approved of on sets. It’s not clubby to do it anymore. It is just a private hell.”
Contrary to her claims, a source close to the actor told People that her drug use was derailing her career. “Word was out on Heather,” the source said. “People knew she had a problem.”
Thomas dropped from 125 to 105 pounds and was falling asleep between takes. Thomas admitted, “Sometimes I was in a minicoma.”
And then she passed out in front of Majors, who called her manager, who called her mother.
When the series finale of The Fall Guy wrapped, her mom, Gladdy Ryder–a former special education teacher–appeared on the set and told her daughter that her father was in hospital.
Rushing to St. John’s Hospital, the author of “Trophies” was greeted by family and friends who were ready to see her admitted into the hospital’s three-week drug program.
“It was a big relief to me,” Thomas said of that day, adding that when she checked into detox, she had pneumonia, scarred lungs and inflamed kidneys. “I’d been on a roller coaster and I wanted to get off. If my family hadn’t intervened, I probably would have gone on my merry way until I lost my job or I died.”
She added, “…The doctors said I should have been dead three years ago.”
Committed to recovery, Thomas surrounded herself with like-minded people who would benefit her goals of being drug-free. That was when Thomas, 28 at the time, met and married Allan Rosenthal, the co-founder of Cocaine Anonymous, whom she divorced in September 1986.
The same month, she suffered serious injuries to both legs when she was struck by a car while crossing the street.
After detox, divorce and surgery repair major damage in one of her legs, Thomas returned to work with smaller roles in TV series. She can also be seen in films like in Cyclone in 1987 and the 1990 Canadian film Red Blooded American Girl with Christopher Plummer.
With her troubles behind her, Thomas started new in the 1990s and while trying to revive her career, she married entertainment lawyer Skip Brittenham in 1992. Taking on the new role as the stepmother to his two daughters, Kristina and Shauna, Thomas also gave birth to her only biological child, daughter India Rose who was born in June 2000.
“So when I had about 45 restraining orders out, and I was on everything from a toilet seat cover to an ashtray–and I was in love, and [then] had two little girls–I decided to give it up and write for a while,” she told Reuters.
In 2017, Heather made a brief comeback in the movie Girltrash: All Night Long, one of her 26 acting credits in her career.
Focused mostly on writing, the Zapped! actor said it wasn’t a lack of roles that drove her from acting, but the stalkers who persistently breached her privacy.
“I was getting so stalked. I had one guy climb over the fence with a knife one time. I had these two little girls and they desperately needed raising so that was that. But I think now I have gotten so old that people won’t bother me much.”
Thomas is also now involved as an activist and formerly served on the board for the Rape Foundation and Amazon Conservation Team.
Identifying as a feminist–a duplicitous title for a former sex symbol–Thomas explained the power of both.
“When I was young, I did what people told me to do but when I was older, I didn’t compromise myself. I wanted power and freedom. This gave me a house and the notoriety to get into the door. There is nothing horrible in letting people see your body. I don’t think I betrayed myself. I don’t think being a feminist means you should be ashamed of your body,” she said.