thomas hollywood henderson lottery

Thomas hollywood henderson lottery

AUSTIN, Texas — Forget for a moment everything you’ve ever heard about Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson.

Before winning the lottery, Thomas Henderson raised $250,000 to build East Side Field in Austin.

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 now.

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.”

Building East Austin’s field of dreams
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 orange oval.

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 paint.

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 generation earlier.

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.”

Living in the fast lane
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. Often.

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 celebrities.

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 ‘a.”‘

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.

Saint it ain’t so?
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 $2,200 tab.

“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 out.

I’m not trying to make Thomas out to be a saint, but some of the things he does are saintly.
Drew Pearson

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.

That’s the ticket
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,” Henderson said.

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 there.

“I can’t have it both ways,” he said.

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.

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.
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson

“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 before.

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 a grandfather.

“I prefer Big Daddy,” he said, laughing.

He remains close with his mother, Violet Faye, taking care of her with the money he’s made — or won — over the years.

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 clubs.

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 into it.

In general, though, Henderson’s ego seems in check.

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 felony record.

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,” Henderson said.

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.”

The past tells little about the man Thomas ‘Hollywood’ Henderson, the former Cowboys linebacker, is now.

‘Hollywood’ Henderson looks back at wild, drug-addicted Super Bowl days

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About 25 years ago, when Thomas Henderson met a girlfriend for dinner at a Dallas restaurant, she pulled out a jewelry box and said she had a surprise.

Henderson opened it. Much to his delight, there was the ring the former linebacker nicknamed “Hollywood” received years earlier for the Cowboys’ 27-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII on Jan. 15, 1978 in New Orleans. Henderson hadn’t been in possession of the ring for nearly a decade and figured he never would see it again.

“It was in 1992 or 1993,” Henderson said. “This girlfriend had paid $11,000 to buy the ring back, and tells me when she gave it to me, ‘You deserve this.’ I just lost it. I bawled like a baby.”

Four decades after the only Super Bowl he won, Henderson, 64, wears his prized ring most days while splitting time between his native Austin, Texas, and South Florida. It’s a reminder of the greatest moment of his NFL career — and also of his downfall and eventual recovery.

Henderson was projected to be an NFL star and did make one Pro Bowl in 1978, but drug addiction and outrageous behavior played a role in his career ending prematurely. He hit rock bottom when he was arrested in 1983 for smoking cocaine with two teenage girls and for allegedly sexually assaulting one of them. He claimed the sex was consensual and eventually pleaded no contest.

That’s when he lost his ring.

“I had to put it up for bail,” said Henderson, who played for the Cowboys from 1975-79 and had stints with San Francisco, Houston and Miami before his NFL career was over in 1981 at age 28. “I had to give them something so they didn’t think I was going to run off to Canada. And then the IRS seized it and put it up for auction.”

The Internal Revenue Service had determined Henderson owed $156,881 in back taxes, a claim he disagreed with and said eventually was worked out. Nevertheless, the ring was sold for $11,000 in 1984 to Robert Briscoe, an avid Cowboys fan living in the small west Texas town of Levelland.

The ring is 10-carat white gold with two 40-point diamonds set in blue stars and surrounded by 25 smaller diamonds. Briscoe, now deceased, agreed nearly a decade later to sell it back to Henderson’s girlfriend at the time without a profit.

By then, Henderson had long completed a 28-month prison term for his conviction. He has been sober since Nov. 8, 1983, the day he said “Hollywood” died.

“When I was 30, if I didn’t change, I wouldn’t have made it to 35,” he said.

Henderson now says he’s “blessed.” He has won the lottery twice. He won $28 million in Lotto Texas in 2000, and took an immediate payout after taxes that netted him $9 million. A decade later, he won a $50,000 prize.

As for his Super Bowl ring, that’s in a special category

“I’ve got three NFC championship rings, which are pretty, but when you win a Super Bowl, it is a special endeavor,” Henderson said. “It’s one of my prized possessions.”

With New England and Philadelphia playing in Super Bowl LII on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Henderson looked back at the three Super Bowls he played in and some of the wild stories surrounding them.

When he was in rookie, Dallas lost 21-17 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X on Jan. 18, 1976 in Miami. After the Cowboys defeated the Broncos two years later, they were going for a repeat but lost 35-31 to the Steelers in Super XIII on Jan. 21, 1979 in Miami.

That’s when even casual fans became aware of “Hollywood.” In the days leading up to the game in Miami, Henderson told the media that Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw “couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’.” Henderson ended up on the cover of Newsweek alongside Bradshaw with the headline “A Really Super Bowl.”

Three years earlier, though, Henderson was showing signs as a rookie of the unique place he would hold in Super Bowl lore. On the opening kickoff of Super Bowl X, the athletic Henderson took a handoff from Preston Pearson and rumbled 48 yards down the left sideline before being pushed out of bounds by kicker Roy Gerela.

“If (safety) Randy Hughes would’ve went to block Gerela, I would’ve scored,” Henderson said.

Henderson preferred Adidas footwear throughout his career but wore shoes with a Puma logo during Super Bowl X. Naturally, there’s a story behind that.

“Before the game, Puma gave me a bag of money to wear their shoes,” Henderson recalled. “There was $3,000 in there. But I tested out the Puma shoes on the turf before the game and they were like ballet shoes. They didn’t protect my toes.

“So to get the money, I actually painted the Puma emblem on my Adidas shoes. I put like a sock over my shoe and painted over it. I never heard anything from Puma after that, but what were they going to do? I already had the money.”

Former Cowboys defensive back Charlie Waters doesn’t doubt that story.

“He did it,” Waters said. “It was clever. That was typical Thomas. We made a lot more money on what shoes we wore in Super Bowls because you got so much exposure in the game. And Thomas would love to have the cash so he could buy a little more entertainment, if you will, after the game, or even during the game.”

By Super Bowl XII, Henderson said he was already deep into his cocaine addiction. Asked recently if he was doing drugs in New Orleans during the week leading up to the game, Henderson said, “I was with Richard Pryor and Marvin Gaye, so what do you think I was doing?”

Pryor, the legendary comedian who died in 2005, and Gaye, the Motown superstar who was shot to death by his father in 1984, had histories of drug abuse. Henderson hung out with them during his playing days.

“They both loved football,” Henderson said. “This was before crack and smoking crack. It was just more of a hit or two. But I was well into my recreational use of cocaine that I snorted.”

Henderson said he didn’t do cocaine the weekend of the game and was well rested for it. He said he relaxed the night before by “smoking cigarettes and I might have had a joint.”

Henderson had a strong performance as the Cowboys’ defense overwhelmed the Broncos. He made Dallas’ first two tackles of the game, stuffing Jon Keyworth for a five-yard loss on the first one. But it was a play on special teams Henderson remembers most.

After the Cowboys were stopped on their opening drive, Danny White punted to Denver’s Rick Upchurch, a former University of Minnesota star who was then one of the NFL’s top punt returners. Before Upchurch could field the ball at Broncos 32, Henderson went flying into his left shoulder, and was assessed a 15-yard penalty.

“Mike Ditka (then a Dallas assistant) had come up to me and said, ‘I don’t care where the ball is, I want you to hit Upchurch,’ ” Henderson said. “We wanted to put something in his head. I was aiming for his throat, but I missed him and just kind of hit him on the shoulder. After we got the penalty, (then Cowboys coach) Tom Landry was irate. I just said to him, ‘Go talk to Ditka. He told me to do it.’ Then I walked away.”

At Super Bowl XIII the next year, Henderson was coming off the best season of his career. He had been named to the Pro Bowl in 1978, and was regarded as one of the NFL’s best linebackers.

He also was becoming known as one of the most flamboyant. In 1977, Henderson picked up his “Hollywood” nickname from teammate Robert Newhouse when he showed up for practice one day in a limousine and wearing a fur coat.

Henderson said he decided to take his antics to a new level in the days leading up to a game midway through the 1978 season.

“We’re playing a game in New York, and I’m in an elevator and I hear a (Cowboys public relations official) talking to four or five New York reporters,” Henderson said. “He’s saying, ‘We want you to talk to (Dallas players) Charlie Waters, Randy White and Roger Staubach.’ In other words, they were telling the press who they wanted them to talk to. That was the first day the self-promotion and marketing of Thomas Henderson was born.

“So I started saying outrageous things, and the reporters started running to find me. I said that the Rams didn’t have any class, and I said Bradshaw couldn’t spell.”

Henderson said the idea for the quote about Bradshaw came from a conversation with then-Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt.

“Gil sits down at my locker and says, ‘Did you know that Terry Bradshaw really wanted to go to LSU?’ ” Henderson said. “He said that his grades weren’t that good and he didn’t pass the SAT and ACT, so he had to go to Louisiana Tech. So that put it in my head, ACT, SAT. That’s when I said he couldn’t spell C-A-T.”

Brandt, who said he tried to swing a trade to get Bradshaw before the Steelers took him with the No. 1 pick in the 1970 NFL draft, recalls having a conversation with Henderson but said that’s not how it went.

“What I told Hollywood before our game with them was that we loved Bradshaw coming out of Louisiana Tech but that the thing about him was that you could confuse him,” Brandt said. “Because he’s so strong and with his ability, he thinks he’s so good, that he’ll take a chance. I never said the guy was not smart. … I had the utmost respect for Bradshaw.”

After Henderson made the comment, Landry, the legendary coach who died in 2000, was not happy.

“It sure didn’t help us any,” Brandt said.

“I just rolled my eyes and thought to myself, ‘Surely you understand the world of competition, and do you really have to get everybody (on the Steelers) madder?’ ” Waters said.

Henderson did have one big play against Bradshaw, sacking him in the second quarter while linebacker Mike Hegman yanked the ball out and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. Bradshaw, though, had the last laugh, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns; he was named Super Bowl MVP.

On the sidelines at the Orange Bowl that day, Henderson said he utilized a small spray bottle that contained a mixture of water and cocaine.

“I had a deviated septum that was a bloody mess, and I had this big scab,” he said. “When you’re snorting (cocaine) pebbles up your nose, it’s going to hurt the lining of your nose. But I was only using the (the spray bottle) for medical purposes to ease the pain, not to get high.”

There already had been plenty of that going on during Super Bowl week.

“I’m in Miami, the headquarters of cocaine, and I was trying some new stuff,” Henderson said. “Some Colombian drug dealers were just giving me stuff. I had about four ounces on me when I got on the team plane to go back to Dallas after the game.”

By the next season, Henderson’s antics and cocaine problems had worsened. Brandt said he confronted Henderson after he received an anonymous call about his drug use but that the linebacker denied it.

During a 34-20 loss at Washington on Nov. 18, 1979, Henderson was seen late in the game on the sideline mugging for the camera and displaying handkerchiefs with a Cowboys logo. Landry became so incensed he cut him after that game.

After stints with the 49ers and Oilers, Henderson broke his neck in a 1981 preseason game with the Dolphins, landing him on injured reserve. Although he was able to recover, he never played again.

“If he didn’t have his problems, he’d be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame right now,” Brandt said. “He had the speed, the size and the smarts. But I think he’s done a marvelous job of turning his life around.”

Henderson said he has spent the past 34 years sober, trying to make amends for his once-destructive behavior. He gives lectures around the country to those with drug-abuse issues. He has made a number of instructional videos that are used in prisons.

And in 1999, he apologized to Bradshaw for his remark prior to Super Bowl XIII.

“He came out to Austin when I was building a track for kids in my community,” Henderson said. “He came to interview me (for Fox Sports), and off camera I pulled him to the side and I said, ‘I want to apologize. I shouldn’t have said it. I want to make amends for that.’ ”

Henderson said Bradshaw, who is in the hall of fame and won four Super Bowl rings, accepted his apology.

Henderson has one ring, and he treasures it. He doesn’t deny, though, that he wonders what might have been.

“Tom Landry came to my 10-year sober anniversary (in 1993) and he got up on stage and he said to the audience, ‘If Thomas would have been playing, we might have won three or four more Super Bowls,’ ” Henderson said.

Former Dallas Cowboys star linebacker Thomas 'Hollywood' Henderson has one Super Bowl ring, won in 1978. But he and those he played with and against wonder how many he might have won if cocaine weren't part of his life during his playing days. ]]>